Secondary Organic Aerosol Formation by Glyoxal Hydration and Oligomer Formation:  Humidity Effects and Equilibrium Shifts during Analysis

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Glyoxal is a significant atmospheric aldehyde formed from both anthropogenic aromatic compounds and biogenic isoprene emissions. The chemical behavior of glyoxal relevant to secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation and analysis is examined in GC−MS, electrospray ionization (ESI)-MS, and particle chamber experiments. Glyoxal oligomers are shown to rapidly decompose to glyoxal in GC injection ports at temperatures ≥120 °C. Glyoxal dihydrate monomer is dehydrated at temperatures ≥140 °C during GC analysis but shows only oligomers (n ≤ 7) upon ESI-MS analysis. Thus both of these analytical techniques will cause artifacts in speciation of glyoxal in SOA. In particle chamber experiments, glyoxal (at ∼0.1 Torr) condensed via particle-phase reactions when relative humidity levels exceeded a threshold of ∼26%. Both the threshold humidity and particle growth rates (∼0.1 nm/min) are consistent with a recent study performed at glyoxal concentrations 4 orders of magnitude below those used here. This consistency suggests a mechanism where the surface water layer of solid-phase aerosol becomes saturated with glyoxal dihydrate monomer, triggering polymerization and the establishment of an organic phase.