Oxidation flow reactors (OFRs) using low-pressure Hg lamp emission at 185 and 254 nm produce OH radicals efficiently and are widely used in atmospheric chemistry and other fields. However, knowledge of detailed OFR chemistry is limited, allowing speculation in the literature about whether some non-OH reactants, including several not relevant for tropospheric chemistry, may play an important role in these OFRs. These non-OH reactants are UV radiation, O(1D), O(3P), and O3. In this study, we investigate the relative importance of other reactants to OH for the fate of reactant species in OFR under a wide range of conditions via box modeling. The relative importance of non-OH species is less sensitive to UV light intensity than to relative humidity (RH) and external OH reactivity (OHRext), as both non-OH reactants and OH scale roughly proportional to UV intensity. We show that for field studies in forested regions and also the urban area of Los Angeles, reactants of atmospheric interest are predominantly consumed by OH. We find that O(1D), O(3P), and O3 have relative contributions to VOC consumption that are similar or lower than in the troposphere. The impact of O atoms can be neglected under most conditions in both OFR and troposphere. Under pathological OFR conditions of low RH and/or high OHRext, the importance of non-OH reactants is enhanced because OH is suppressed. Some biogenics can have substantial destructions by O3, and photolysis at non-tropospheric wavelengths (185 and 254 nm) may also play a significant role in the degradation of some aromatics under pathological conditions. Working under low O2 with the OFR185 mode allows OH to completely dominate over O3 reactions even for the biogenic species most reactive with O3. Non-tropospheric VOC photolysis may have been a problem in some laboratory and source studies, but can be avoided or lessened in future studies by diluting source emissions and working at lower precursor concentrations in lab studies, and by humidification. SOA photolysis is shown to be insignificant for most functional groups, except for nitrates and especially aromatics, which may be photolyzed at high UV flux settings. Our work further establishes the OFR's usefulness as a tool to study atmospheric chemistry and enables better experiment design and interpretation, as well as improved future reactor design.
Meteorology and Climatology
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (e-ISSN 1680-7324); 16; 7; 4283-4305