Effect of aerosol composition on the performance of low-cost optical particle counter correction factors

Leigh R. Crilley*, Ajit Singh, Louisa J. Kramer, Marvin D. Shaw, Mohammed S. Alam, Joshua S. Apte, William J. Bloss, Lea Hildebrandt Ruiz, Pingqing Fu, Weiqi Fu, Shahzad Gani, Michael Gatari, Evgenia Ilyinskaya, Alastair C. Lewis, David Ng'ang'a, Yele Sun, Rachel C.W. Whitty, Siyao Yue, Stuart Young, Francis D. Pope

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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There is considerable interest in using low-cost optical particle counters (OPCs) to supplement existing routine air quality networks that monitor particle mass concentrations. In order to do this, low-cost OPC data need to be comparable with particle mass reference instrumentation; however, there is currently no widely agreed upon methodology to accomplish this. Aerosol hygroscopicity is known to be a key parameter to consider when correcting particle mass concentrations derived from low-cost OPCs, particularly at high ambient relative humidity (RH). Correction factors have been developed that apply κ-Köhler theory to correct for the influence of water uptake by hygroscopic aerosols. We have used datasets of co-located reference particle measurements and low-cost OPC (OPC-N2, Alphasense) measurements, collected in four cities on three continents, to explore the performance of this correction factor. We provide evidence that the elevated particle mass concentrations, reported by the low-cost OPC relative to reference instrumentation, are due to bulk aerosol hygroscopicity under different RH conditions, which is determined by aerosol composition and, in particular, the levels of hygroscopic aerosols (sulfate and nitrate). We exploit measurements made in volcanic plumes in Nicaragua, which are predominantly composed of sulfate aerosol, as a natural experiment to demonstrate this behaviour in the ambient atmosphere; the observed humidogram from these measurements closely resembles the calculated pure sulfuric acid humidogram. The results indicate that the particle mass concentrations derived from low-cost OPCs during periods of high RH (>60 %) need to be corrected for aerosol hygroscopic growth. We employed a correction factor based on κ-Köhler theory and observed that the corrected OPC-N2 PM2.5 mass concentrations were within 33 % of reference measurements at all sites. The results indicated that a κ value derived in situ (using suitable reference instrumentation) would lead to the most accurate correction relative to co-located reference instruments. Applying a κ values from the literature in the correction factor also resulted in improved OPC-N2 performance, with the measurements being within 50 % of the reference values. Therefore, for areas where suitable reference instrumentation for developing a local correction factor is lacking, using a literature κ value can result in a reasonable correction. For locations with low levels of hygroscopic aerosols and low RH values, a simple calibration against gravimetric measurements (using suitable reference instrumentation) would likely be sufficient. Whilst this study generated correction factors specific for the Alphasense OPC-N2 sensor, the calibration methodology developed is likely amenable to other low-cost PM sensors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1181-1193
Number of pages13
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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