This study describes an analysis of ambient aerosols in a southeastern coastal city of China (Xiamen) in order to assess the temporal variability in the concentrations and sources of organic aerosols (OA). Molecular-level measurements based on a series of solvent extractable lipid compounds reveal inherent heterogeneity in OA, in which the concentration and relative contribution of at least three distinct components (terrestrial plant wax derived, marine/microbial and fossil fuel derived organic matter (OM)) exhibited distinct and systematic temporal variability. Plant wax lipids and associated terrestrial OM are influenced by seasonal variability in plant growth; marine/microbial lipids and associated marine OM are modulated by sea spill and temperature change, whereas fossil fuel derived OM reflects the anthropogenic utilization of fossil fuels originated from petroleum-derived sources and its temporal variation is strongly controlled by meteorological conditions (e.g., the thermal inversion layer), which is analogous to other air organic pollutions. A comparative study among different coastal cities was applied to estimate the supply of different sources of OM to ambient aerosols in different regions, where it was found that biogenic OM in aerosols over Xiamen was much lower than that of other cities; however, petroleum-derived OM exhibited a high level of contribution with a higher concentration of unresolved complex matters (UCM) and higher a ratio between UCM and resolved alkanes (UCM/R).
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