Review: Particle number size distributions from seven major sources and implications for source apportionment studies

Van Tuan Vu, Juana Maria Delgado-Saborit, Roy M. Harrison*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Citations (Scopus)
599 Downloads (Pure)


The particle number size distribution (PNSD) of airborne particles not only provides us with information about sources and atmospheric processing of particles, but also plays an important role in determining regional lung dose. As a result, urban particles and their size distributions have received much attention with a rapid increase of publications in recent years. The object of this review is to synthesise and analyse existing knowledge on particles in urban environments with a focus on their number concentration and size distribution. This study briefly reviews the characterization of PNSD from seven major sources of urban particles including traffic emissions, industrial emissions, biomass burning, cooking, transported aerosol, marine aerosol and nucleation. It then discusses atmospheric physical processes such as coagulation or condensation which have a strong influence on PNSD. Finally, the implications of PNSD datasets for source modelling are briefly discussed. Based on this review, it is concluded that the concentrations, modal structures and temporal patterns of urban particles are strongly influenced by traffic emissions, which are identified as the main source of particle number in urban environments. Information derived from particle number size distributions is beginning to play an important role in source apportionment studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-132
Number of pages19
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Early online date11 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Human exposure
  • Number size distribution
  • Source apportionment
  • Urban particles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science
  • General Environmental Science


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