Chapter 17 A review of atmospheric aerosol measurements

Peter H. McMurry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Recent developments in atmospheric aerosol measurements are reviewed. The topics included complement those covered in the recent review by Chow (JAWMA 45: 320-382, 1995) which focuses on regulatory compliance measurements and filter measurements of particulate composition. This review focuses on measurements of aerosol integral properties (total number concentration, CCN concentration, optical coefficients, etc.), aerosol physical chemical properties (density, refractive index, equilibrium water content, etc.), measurements of aerosol size distributions, and measurements of size-resolved aerosol composition. Such measurements play an essential role in studies of secondary aerosol formation by atmospheric chemical transformations and enable one to quantify the contributions of various species to effects including light scattering/absorption, health effects, dry deposition, etc. Aerosol measurement evolved from an art to a science in the 1970s following the development of instrumentation to generate monodisperse calibration aerosols of known size, composition, and concentration. While such calibration tools permit precise assessments of instrument responses to known laboratory-generated aerosols, unquantifiable uncertainties remain even when carefully calibrated instruments are used for atmospheric measurements. This is because instrument responses typically depend on aerosol properties including composition, shape, density, etc., which, for atmospheric aerosols, may vary from particle-to-particle and are often unknown. More effort needs to be made to quantify measurement accuracies that can be achieved for realistic atmospheric sampling scenarios. The measurement of organic species in atmospheric particles requires substantial development. Atmospheric aerosols typically include hundreds of organic compounds, and only a small fraction (∼10%) of these can be identified by state-of-the-art analytical methodologies. Even the measurement of the total particulate organic carbon mass concentration is beset by difficulties including the unknown extent of evaporative losses during sampling, adsorption of gas-phase organic compounds onto sampling substrates, and the unknown relationship between carbon mass and mass of the particulate organics. The development of improved methodologies for such measurements should be a high priority for the future. Mass spectrometers that measure the composition of individual particles have recently been developed. It is not clear that these instruments will provide quantitative information on species mass concentrations, and more work is needed to routinely interpret the vast quantities of data generated during field sampling. Nevertheless, these instruments substantially expand the range of atmospheric aerosol issues that can be explored experimentally. These instruments represent the most significant advance in aerosol instrumentation in recent years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-517
Number of pages75
JournalDevelopments in Environmental Science
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Preparation of this review was supported in part by the Electric Power Research Institute through Grant No. EPRI W09116-08AV04105-01 and in part by the Department of Energy through Grant No. DE-FG02-91ER61205. Colleagues too numerous to mention have readily responded to my requests for information. Thank you all.


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