Assessing the sources of particles at an urban background site using both regulatory instruments and low-cost sensors – a comparative study

Dimitrios Bousiotis, Ajit Singh, Molly Haugen, David C.S. Beddows, Sebastián Diez, Killian L. Murphy, Pete M. Edwards, Adam Boies, Roy M. Harrison, Francis D. Pope*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Downloads (Pure)


Measurement and source apportionment of atmospheric pollutants are crucial for the assessment of air quality and the implementation of policies for their improvement. In most cases, such measurements use expensive regulatory-grade instruments, which makes it difficult to achieve wide spatial coverage. Low-cost sensors may provide a more affordable alternative, but their capability and reliability in separating distinct sources of particles have not been tested extensively yet. The present study examines the ability of a low-cost optical particle counter (OPC) to identify the sources of particles and conditions that affect particle concentrations at an urban background site in Birmingham, UK. To help evaluate the results, the same analysis is performed on data from a regulatory-grade instrument (SMPS, scanning mobility particle sizer) and compared to the outcomes from the OPC analysis. The analysis of the low-cost sensor data manages to separate periods and atmospheric conditions according to the level of pollution at the site. It also successfully identifies a number of sources for the observed particles, which were also identified using the regulatory-grade instruments. The low-cost sensor, due to the particle size range measured (0.35 to 40 µm), performed rather well in differentiating sources of particles with sizes greater than 1 µm, though its ability to distinguish their diurnal variation, as well as to separate sources of smaller particles, at the site was limited. The current level of source identification demonstrated makes the technique useful for background site studies, where larger particles with smaller temporal variations are of significant importance. This study highlights the current capability of low-cost sensors in source identification and differentiation using clustering approaches. Future directions towards particulate matter source apportionment using low-cost OPCs are highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4139-4155
Number of pages17
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This research has been supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant no. NE/T001879/1) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (grant no. EP/T030100/1).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing the sources of particles at an urban background site using both regulatory instruments and low-cost sensors – a comparative study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this