Sampling artefacts, concentration and chemical composition of fine water-soluble organic carbon and humic-like substances in a continental urban atmospheric environment

Imre Salma, Rita Ocskay, Xuguang Chi, Willy Maenhaut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

76 Citations (Scopus)


Water-soluble organic carbon (WSOC) and atmospheric humic-like substances (HULIS) were investigated for urban PM2.5-fraction aerosol samples, which were collected with the tandem filter method on quartz fibre filters over a non-heating spring season. Sampling artefacts were of importance for all organic chemical fractions, and the back-to-front-filter concentration ratios were on average 28% for WSOC and 17% for HULIS and organic carbon (OC). The difference in the ratios indicates that the water-soluble organics play a more important role in adsorptive artefacts than the organic matter (OM) in general. The results emphasize the need for an appropriate sampling and/or correction method for measuring particulate organic substances in urban environments. The corrected atmospheric concentration of HULIS, obtained by subtracting the back-filter from the front-filter data, was on average 2 μg m-3; which represented 6% of the mean PM2.5 particulate mass, and it made up 45% of the secondary OC. The HULIS carbon accounted for 20% of the OC and 62% of the WSOC, while WSOC made up 32% of OC. The major element composition of HULIS, expressed in molar ratios, was C:H:O:N=22:32:10:1. The molar H/C ratio of 1.49 implies the presence of unsaturated organic compounds, although these were depleted in comparison with rural aerosol or standard fulvic acids. The molar O/C ratio of 0.47 indicates the existence of oxygenated functional groups; comparison to rural aerosol suggests that the (fresh) urban-type aerosol is less oxidized (and, therefore, less water soluble as well) than the rural one. The OM/OC mass conversion factor for the isolated (water-soluble) HULIS was derived to be 1.81. It was inferred from comparisons with published data that there are substantial differences in abundance and chemical composition of HULIS for different environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4106-4118
Number of pages13
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2007



  • Carbon balance
  • OC
  • OM/OC mass conversion factor
  • WSOC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science

Cite this