Study of new particle formation in subtropical urban environment in Brisbane, Australia

Cheung, Hing Cho (2012) Study of new particle formation in subtropical urban environment in Brisbane, Australia. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Atmospheric ultrafine particles play an important role in affecting human health, altering climate and degrading visibility. Numerous studies have been conducted to better understand the formation process of these particles, including field measurements, laboratory chamber studies and mathematical modeling approaches. Field studies on new particle formation found that formation processes were significantly affected by atmospheric conditions, such as the availability of particle precursors and meteorological conditions. However, those studies were mainly carried out in rural areas of the northern hemisphere and information on new particle formation in urban areas, especially those in subtropical regions, is limited. In general, subtropical regions display a higher level of solar radiation, along with stronger photochemical reactivity, than those regions investigated in previous studies. However, based on the results of these studies, the mechanisms involved in the new particle formation process remain unclear, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, in order to fill this gap in knowledge, a new particle formation study was conducted in a subtropical urban area in the Southern Hemisphere during 2009, which measured particle size distribution in different locations in Brisbane, Australia. Characterisation of nucleation events was conducted at the campus building of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), located in an urban area of Brisbane. Overall, the annual average number concentrations of ultrafine, Aitken and nucleation mode particles were found to be 9.3 x 103, 3.7 x 103 and 5.6 x 103 cm-3, respectively. This was comparable to levels measured in urban areas of northern Europe, but lower than those from polluted urban areas such as the Yangtze River Delta, China and Huelva and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain. Average particle number concentration (PNC) in the Brisbane region did not show significant seasonal variation, however a relatively large variation was observed during the warmer season. Diurnal variation of Aitken and nucleation mode particles displayed different patterns, which suggested that direct vehicle exhaust emissions were a major contributor of Aitken mode particles, while nucleation mode particles originated from vehicle exhaust emissions in the morning and photochemical production at around noon. A total of 65 nucleation events were observed during 2009, in which 40 events were classified as nucleation growth events and the remainder were nucleation burst events. An interesting observation in this study was that all nucleation growth events were associated with vehicle exhaust emission plumes, while the nucleation burst events were associated with industrial emission plumes from an industrial area. The average particle growth rate for nucleation events was found to be 4.6 nm hr-1 (ranging from 1.79-7.78 nm hr-1), which is comparable to other urban studies conducted in the United States, while monthly particle growth rates were found to be positively related to monthly solar radiation (r = 0.76, p <0.05). The particle growth rate values reported in this work are the first of their kind to be reported for the subtropical urban area of Australia.

Furthermore, the influence of nucleation events on PNC within the urban airshed was also investigated. PNC was simultaneously measured at urban (QUT), roadside (Woolloongabba) and semi-urban (Rocklea) sites in Brisbane during 2009. Total PNC at these sites was found to be significantly affected by regional nucleation events. The relative fractions of PNC to total daily PNC observed at QUT, Woolloongabba and Rocklea were found to be 12%, 9% and 14%, respectively, during regional nucleation events. These values were higher than those observed as a result of vehicle exhaust emissions during weekday mornings, which ranged from 5.1-5.5% at QUT and Woolloongabba. In addition, PNC in the semi-urban area of Rocklea increased by a factor of 15.4 when it was upwind from urban pollution sources under the influence of nucleation burst events.

Finally, we investigated the influence of sulfuric acid on new particle formation in the study region. A H2SO4 proxy was calculated by using [SO2], solar radiation and particle condensation sink data to represent the new particle production strength for the urban, roadside and semi-urban areas of Brisbane during the period June-July of 2009. The temporal variations of the H2SO4 proxies and the nucleation mode particle concentration were found to be in phase during nucleation events in the urban and roadside areas. In contrast, the peak of proxy concentration occurred 1-2 hr prior to the observed peak in nucleation mode particle concentration at the downwind semi-urban area of Brisbane. A moderate to strong linear relationship was found between the proxy and the freshly formed particles, with r2 values of 0.26-0.77 during the nucleation events. In addition, the log[H2SO4 proxy] required to produce new particles was found to be ~1.0 ppb Wm-2 s and below 0.5 ppb Wm-2 s for the urban and semi-urban areas, respectively. The particle growth rates were similar during nucleation events at the three study locations, with an average value of 2.7 ± 0.5 nm hr-1. This result suggested that a similar nucleation mechanism dominated in the study region, which was strongly related to sulphuric acid concentration, however the relationship between the proxy and PNC was poor in the semi-urban area of Rocklea. This can be explained by the fact that the nucleation process was initiated upwind of the site and the resultant particles were transported via the wind to Rocklea. This explanation is also supported by the higher geometric mean diameter value observed for particles during the nucleation event and the time lag relationship between the H2SO4 proxy and PNC observed at Rocklea.

In summary, particle size distribution was continuously measured in a subtropical urban area of southern hemisphere during 2009, the findings from which formed the first particle size distribution dataset in the study region. The characteristics of nucleation events in the Brisbane region were quantified and the properties of the nucleation growth and burst events are discussed in detail using a case studies approach. To further investigate the influence of nucleation events on PNC in the study region, PNC was simultaneously measured at three locations to examine the spatial variation of PNC during the regional nucleation events. In addition, the impact of upwind urban pollution on the downwind semi-urban area was quantified during these nucleation events. Sulphuric acid was found to be an important factor influencing new particle formation in the urban and roadside areas of the study region, however, a direct relationship with nucleation events at the semi-urban site was not observed. This study provided an overview of new particle formation in the Brisbane region, and its influence on PNC in the surrounding area. The findings of this work are the first of their kind for an urban area in the southern hemisphere.

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ID Code: 60045
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Morawaska, Lidia & Ristovski, Zoran
Keywords: particle size distribution, nucleation, particle formation, ultrafine particles, subtropical urban
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 16 May 2013 00:36
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 04:44

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