Cluster analysis of particle number size distributions from background sites across Europe is presented. This generated a total of nine clusters of particle size distributions which could be further combined into two main groups, namely: a South to North category (four clusters) and a West to East category (five clusters). The first group was identified as most frequently being detected inside and around Northern Germany and neighbouring countries, showing clear evidence of local afternoon nucleation and growth events that could be linked to movement of air masses from South-to-North arriving ultimately at the Arctic contributing to Arctic Haze. The second group of particle size spectra proved to have narrower size distributions and collectively showed a dependence of modal diameter upon the longitude of the site (West to East) at which they were most frequently detected. These clusters indicated regional nucleation (at the coastal sites) growing to larger modes further inland. The apparent growth rate of the modal diameter was around 0.6 – 0.9 nm h-1.
Four specific air mass back trajectories were successively taken as case studies to examine in real time the evolution of aerosol size distributions across Europe. While aerosol growth processes can be observed as aerosol traverses Europe, the processes are often obscured by the addition of aerosol by emissions en route. This study revealed that some of the 24 stations exhibit more complex behaviour than others, especially when impacted by local sources or a variety of different air masses. Overall, the aerosol size distribution clustering analysis greatly simplifies the complex dataset and allows a description of aerosol aging processes, which reflects the longer-term average development of particle number size distributions as air masses advect across Europe.