Articles | Volume 8, issue 9
Research article
18 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 18 Sep 2015

Aerosol mass spectrometry: particle–vaporizer interactions and their consequences for the measurements

F. Drewnick, J.-M. Diesch, P. Faber, and S. Borrmann

Abstract. The Aerodyne aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) is a frequently used instrument for on-line measurement of the ambient sub-micron aerosol composition. With the help of calibrations and a number of assumptions on the flash vaporization and electron impact ionization processes, this instrument provides robust quantitative information on various non-refractory ambient aerosol components. However, when measuring close to certain anthropogenic or marine sources of semi-refractory aerosols, several of these assumptions may not be met and measurement results might easily be incorrectly interpreted if not carefully analyzed for unique ions, isotope patterns, and potential slow vaporization associated with semi-refractory species.

Here we discuss various aspects of the interaction of aerosol particles with the AMS tungsten vaporizer and the consequences for the measurement results: semi-refractory components – i.e., components that vaporize but do not flash-vaporize at the vaporizer and ionizer temperatures, like metal halides (e.g., chlorides, bromides or iodides of Al, Ba, Cd, Cu, Fe, Hg, K, Na, Pb, Sr, Zn) – can be measured semi-quantitatively despite their relatively slow vaporization from the vaporizer. Even though non-refractory components (e.g., NH4NO3 or (NH4)2SO4) vaporize quickly, under certain conditions their differences in vaporization kinetics can result in undesired biases in ion collection efficiency in thresholded measurements. Chemical reactions with oxygen from the aerosol flow can have an influence on the mass spectra for certain components (e.g., organic species). Finally, chemical reactions of the aerosol with the vaporizer surface can result in additional signals in the mass spectra (e.g., WO2Cl2-related signals from particulate Cl) and in conditioning or contamination of the vaporizer, with potential memory effects influencing the mass spectra of subsequent measurements.

Laboratory experiments that investigate these particle–vaporizer interactions are presented and are discussed together with field results, showing that measurements of typical continental or urban aerosols are not significantly affected, while measurements of semi-refractory aerosol in the laboratory, close to anthropogenic sources or in marine environments, can be biased by these effects.