Articles | Volume 7, issue 10
Research article
01 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 01 Oct 2014

Simultaneous retrieval of effective refractive index and density from size distribution and light-scattering data: weakly absorbing aerosol

E. Kassianov, J. Barnard, M. Pekour, L. K. Berg, J. Shilling, C. Flynn, F. Mei, and A. Jefferson

Abstract. We propose here a novel approach for retrieving in parallel the effective density and real refractive index of weakly absorbing aerosol from optical and size distribution measurements. Here we define "weakly absorbing" as aerosol single-scattering albedos that exceed 0.95 at 0.5 μm. The required optical measurements are the scattering coefficient and the hemispheric backscatter fraction, obtained in this work from an integrating nephelometer. The required size spectra come from mobility and aerodynamic particle size spectrometers commonly referred to as a scanning mobility particle sizer and an aerodynamic particle sizer. The performance of this approach is first evaluated using a sensitivity study with synthetically generated but measurement-related inputs. The sensitivity study reveals that the proposed approach is robust to random noise; additionally the uncertainties of the retrieval are almost linearly proportional to the measurement errors, and these uncertainties are smaller for the real refractive index than for the effective density. Next, actual measurements are used to evaluate our approach. These measurements include the optical, microphysical, and chemical properties of weakly absorbing aerosol which are representative of a variety of coastal summertime conditions observed during the Two-Column Aerosol Project (TCAP; The evaluation includes calculating the root mean square error (RMSE) between the aerosol characteristics retrieved by our approach, and the same quantities calculated using the conventional volume mixing rule for chemical constituents. For dry conditions (defined in this work as relative humidity less than 55%) and sub-micron particles, a very good (RMSE ~ 3%) and reasonable (RMSE ~ 28%) agreement is obtained for the retrieved real refractive index (1.49 ± 0.02) and effective density (1.68 ± 0.21), respectively. Our approach permits discrimination between the retrieved aerosol characteristics of sub-micron and sub-10-micron particles. The evaluation results also reveal that the retrieved density and refractive index tend to decrease with an increase of the relative humidity.