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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 Sep 15;38(18):4797-809.

Insights into the chemistry of new particle formation and growth events in Pittsburgh based on aerosol mass spectrometry.

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  • 1Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0216, USA.


New particle formation and growth events have been observed in several urban areas and are of concern due to their potential negative effects on human health. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the chemistry of ultrafine particles during the growth phase of the frequently observed nucleation events in Pittsburgh (approximately 100 events per year) and therefore infer the mechanisms of new particle growth in the urban troposphere. An Aerodyne aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) and two SMPS systems were deployed at the U.S. EPA Pittsburgh Supersite during September 2002. Significant nucleation events were observed in 3 out of the 16 days of this deployment, including one of the 10 strongest nucleation events observed in Pittsburgh over a period of 15 months. These events appear to be representative of the climatology of new particle formation and growth in the Pittsburgh region. Distinctive growth of sulfate, ammonium, organics, and nitrate in the ultrafine mode (33-60 nm in a vacuum aerodynamic diameter or approximately 18-33 nm in physical diameter) was observed during each of these three events, with sulfate always being the first (and the fastest) species to increase. Ultrafine ammonium usually increased 10-40 min later than sulfate, causing the ultrafine mode particles to be more acidic during the initial stages of the nucleation events. Significant increase of ultrafine organics often happened after 11:00 a.m., when photochemistry is more intense. This observation coupled with a parallel increase of ultrafine m/z 44, a mass fragment generally representative of oxygenated organic compounds, indicates that secondary organic species contribute significantly to the growth of particles at a relatively later time of the event. Among all these four species, nitrate was always a minor component of the ultrafine particles and contributed the least to the new particle growth.

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