A large fraction of atmospheric aerosols are derived from organic compounds with various volatilities. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) WP-3D research aircraft made airborne measurements of the gaseous and aerosol composition of air over the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred from April to August 2010. A narrow plume of hydrocarbons was observed downwind of DWH that is attributed to the evaporation of fresh oil on the sea surface. A much wider plume with high concentrations of organic aerosol (>25 micrograms per cubic meter) was attributed to the formation of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) from unmeasured, less volatile hydrocarbons that were emitted from a wider area around DWH. These observations provide direct and compelling evidence for the importance of formation of SOA from less volatile hydrocarbons.
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