Aerosol formation from biogenic and anthropogenic precursor trace gases in continental background areas affects climate via altering the amount of available cloud condensation nuclei. Significant uncertainty still exists regarding the agents controlling the formation of aerosol nanoparticles. We have performed experiments in the Jülich plant–atmosphere simulation chamber with instrumentation for the detection of sulfuric acid and nanoparticles, and present the first simultaneous chamber observations of nanoparticles, sulfuric acid, and realistic levels and mixtures of biogenic volatile compounds (BVOCs). We present direct laboratory observations of nanoparticle formation from sulfuric acid and realistic BVOC precursor vapour mixtures performed at atmospherically relevant concentration levels. We directly measured particle formation rates separately from particle growth rates. From this, we established that in our experiments, the formation rate was proportional to the product of sulfuric acid and biogenic VOC emission strength. The formation rates were consistent with a mechanism in which nucleating BVOC oxidation products are rapidly formed and activate with sulfuric acid. The growth rate of nanoparticles immediately after birth was best correlated with estimated products resulting from BVOC ozonolysis.
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