Articles | Volume 8, issue 10
Research article
02 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 02 Oct 2015

Predicting ambient aerosol thermal–optical reflectance measurements from infrared spectra: elemental carbon

A. M. Dillner and S. Takahama

Abstract. Elemental carbon (EC) is an important constituent of atmospheric particulate matter because it absorbs solar radiation influencing climate and visibility and it adversely affects human health. The EC measured by thermal methods such as thermal–optical reflectance (TOR) is operationally defined as the carbon that volatilizes from quartz filter samples at elevated temperatures in the presence of oxygen. Here, methods are presented to accurately predict TOR EC using Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) absorbance spectra from atmospheric particulate matter collected on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE or Teflon) filters. This method is similar to the procedure developed for OC in prior work (Dillner and Takahama, 2015). Transmittance FT-IR analysis is rapid, inexpensive and nondestructive to the PTFE filter samples which are routinely collected for mass and elemental analysis in monitoring networks. FT-IR absorbance spectra are obtained from 794 filter samples from seven Interagency Monitoring of PROtected Visual Environment (IMPROVE) sites collected during 2011. Partial least squares regression is used to calibrate sample FT-IR absorbance spectra to collocated TOR EC measurements. The FT-IR spectra are divided into calibration and test sets. Two calibrations are developed: one developed from uniform distribution of samples across the EC mass range (Uniform EC) and one developed from a uniform distribution of Low EC mass samples (EC < 2.4 μg, Low Uniform EC). A hybrid approach which applies the Low EC calibration to Low EC samples and the Uniform EC calibration to all other samples is used to produce predictions for Low EC samples that have mean error on par with parallel TOR EC samples in the same mass range and an estimate of the minimum detection limit (MDL) that is on par with TOR EC MDL. For all samples, this hybrid approach leads to precise and accurate TOR EC predictions by FT-IR as indicated by high coefficient of determination (R2; 0.96), no bias (0.00 μg m−3, a concentration value based on the nominal IMPROVE sample volume of 32.8 m3), low error (0.03 μg m−3) and reasonable normalized error (21 %). These performance metrics can be achieved with various degrees of spectral pretreatment (e.g., including or excluding substrate contributions to the absorbances) and are comparable in precision and accuracy to collocated TOR measurements. Only the normalized error is higher for the FT-IR EC measurements than for collocated TOR. FT-IR spectra are also divided into calibration and test sets by the ratios OC/EC and ammonium/EC to determine the impact of OC and ammonium on EC prediction. We conclude that FT-IR analysis with partial least squares regression is a robust method for accurately predicting TOR EC in IMPROVE network samples, providing complementary information to TOR OC predictions (Dillner and Takahama, 2015) and the organic functional group composition and organic matter estimated previously from the same set of sample spectra (Ruthenburg et al., 2014).

Short summary
Elemental carbon (EC), a constituent of atmospheric particulate matter (PM), adversely affects climate, visibility and human health. EC is measured in PM monitoring networks world-wide but the method is expensive and destructive to the samples. Here, methods are presented to accurately predict EC using Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) analysis which is inexpensive and non-destructive. This method complements measurements of organic carbon and organic functional groups made using FT-IR.