Carbon oxidation state as a metric for describing the chemistry of atmospheric organic aerosol
A detailed understanding of the sources, transformations, and fates of organic species in the environment is crucial because of the central roles that organics play in human health, biogeochemical cycles, and Earth's climate. However, such an understanding is hindered by the immense chemical complexity of environmental mixtures of organics; for example, atmospheric organic aerosol consists of at least thousands of individual compounds, all of which likely evolve chemically over their atmospheric lifetimes. Here we demonstrate the utility of describing organic aerosol (and other complex organic mixtures) in terms of average carbon oxidation state (OSC), a quantity that always increases with oxidation, and is readily measured using state-of-the-art analytical techniques. Field and laboratory measurements of OSC , using several such techniques, constrain the chemical properties of the organics and demonstrate that the formation and evolution of organic aerosol involves simultaneous changes to both carbon oxidation state and carbon number (nC).