Scientific reports

Photosensitized production of functionalized and unsaturated organic compounds at the air-sea interface.

PMID 26244712


The sea-surface microlayer (SML) has different physical, chemical and biological properties compared to the subsurface water, with an enrichment of organic matter i.e., dissolved organic matter including UV absorbing humic substances, fatty acids and many others. Here we present experimental evidence that dissolved organic matter, such as humic acids, when exposed to sunlight, can photosensitize the chemical conversion of linear saturated fatty acids at the air-water interface into unsaturated functionalized gas phase products (i.e. saturated and unsaturated aldehydes and acids, alkenes and dienes,...) which are known precursors of secondary organic aerosols. These functionalized molecules have previously been thought to be of biological origin, but here we demonstrate that abiotic interfacial photochemistry has the potential to produce such molecules. As the ocean is widely covered by the SML, this new understanding will impact on our ability to describe atmospheric chemistry in the marine environment.