Remarkable dynamics of nanoparticles in the urban atmosphere
Abstract. Nanoparticles emitted from road traffic are the largest source of respiratory exposure for the general public living in urban areas. It has been suggested that adverse health effects of airborne particles may scale with airborne particle number, which if correct, focuses attention on the nanoparticle (less than 100 nm) size range which dominates the number count in urban areas. Urban measurements of particle size distributions have tended to show a broadly similar pattern dominated by a mode centred on 20–30 nm diameter emitted by diesel engine exhaust. In this paper we report the results of measurements of particle number concentration and size distribution made in a major London park as well as on the BT Tower, 160 m aloft. These measurements taken during the REPARTEE project (Regents Park and BT Tower experiment) show a remarkable shift in particle size distributions with major losses of the smallest particle class as particles are advected away from the traffic source. In the Park, the traffic related mode at 20–30 nm diameter is much reduced with a new mode at <10 nm. Size distribution measurements also revealed higher number concentrations of sub-50 nm particles at the BT Tower during days affected by higher turbulence as determined by Doppler Lidar measurements and are indicative of loss of nanoparticles from air aged during less turbulent conditions. These results are suggestive of nanoparticle loss by evaporation, rather than coagulation processes. The results have major implications for understanding the impacts of traffic-generated particulate matter on human health.