Errors in nanoparticle growth rates inferred from measurements in chemically reacting aerosol systems

Li, Chenxi; McMurry, Peter H.

In systems in which aerosols are being formed by chemical transformations, individual particles grow due to the addition of molecular species. Efforts to improve our understanding of particle growth often focus on attempts to reconcile observed growth rates with values calculated from models. However, because it is typically not possible to measure the growth rates of individual particles in chemically reacting systems, they must be inferred from measurements of aerosol properties such as size distributions, particle number concentrations, etc. This work discusses errors in growth rates obtained using methods that are commonly employed for analyzing atmospheric data. We analyze “data” obtained by simulating the formation of aerosols in a system in which a single chemical species is formed at a constant rate, inline-formulaR. We show that the maximum overestimation error in measured growth rates occurs for collision-controlled nucleation in a single-component system in the absence of a preexisting aerosol, wall losses, evaporation or dilution, as this leads to the highest concentrations of nucleated particles. Those high concentrations lead to high coagulation rates that cause the nucleation mode to grow faster than would be caused by vapor condensation alone. We also show that preexisting particles, when coupled with evaporation, can significantly decrease the concentration of nucleated particles. This can lead to decreased discrepancies between measured growth rate and true growth rate by reducing coagulation among nucleated particles. However, as particle sink processes become stronger, measured growth rates can potentially be lower than true particle growth rates. We briefly discuss nucleation scenarios in which the observed growth rate approaches zero while the true growth rate does not.

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Li, Chenxi / McMurry, Peter H.: Errors in nanoparticle growth rates inferred from measurements in chemically reacting aerosol systems. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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