One of the most abundant carboxylic acids measured in the atmosphere is acetic acid (CH(3)C(O)OH), present in rural, urban, and remote marine environments in the low-ppb range. Acetic acid concentrations are not well reproduced in global 3-D atmospheric models because of the poor inventory of sources and sinks to model its global distribution. To understand the complete oxidation of acetic acid in the atmosphere initiated by OH radicals, ab initio calculations are performed to describe in detail the energetics of the reaction potential energy surface (PES). The proposed reaction mechanism suggests that the CH(3)C(O)OH + OH reaction takes place via three pathways: the addition of OH to the central carbon, the abstraction of a methyl hydrogen, and the abstraction of an acidic hydrogen. The PES is characterized by prereactive H-complexes, transition states, and more interestingly unique radical-mediated isomerization reactions. From the analysis of the energetics, acetic acid atmospheric oxidation will proceed mainly via the abstraction of the acidic hydrogen, consistent with previous experimental and theoretical studies. The major byproducts from each pathway are identified. Glyoxylic acid is suggested to be a major byproduct of the atmospheric oxidation of acetic acid. The atmospheric fate of glyoxylic acid is discussed.