25 Apr 2023
 | 25 Apr 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal AMT.

Spectral Analysis Approach for Assessing Accuracy of a Low-Cost Air Quality Sensor Network Data

Vijay Kumar, Dinushani Senarathna, Supraja Gurajala, William Olsen, Shantanu Sur, Sumona Mondal, and Suresh Dhaniyala

Abstract. Extensive monitoring of PM2.5 is critical for understanding changes in local air quality due to policy measures. With the emergence of low-cost air quality sensor networks, high spatio-temporal measurements of air quality are now possible. However, the sensitivity, noise, and accuracy of field data from such networks are not fully understood. In this study, we use frequency analysis of a two-year data record of PM2.5 from both the EPA and Purple Air (PA), a low-cost sensor network, to identify the contribution of individual periodic sources to local air quality in Chicago. We find that sources with time periods of 4, 8, 12, and 24 hours have significant but varying relative contributions to the data for both networks. Further analysis reveals that the 8- and 12-hour sources are traffic-related and photochemistry-driven, respectively, and that the contribution of both these sources is significantly lower in the PA data than in the EPA data. We also use a correction model that accounts for the contribution of relative humidity and temperature, and we observe that the PA temporal components can be made to match those of the EPA over the medium- and long-term but not over the short-term. Thus, standard approaches to improve the accuracy of low-cost sensor network data will not result in unbiased measurements. The strong source dependence of low-cost sensor network measurements demands exceptional care in the analysis of ambient data from these networks, particularly when used to evaluate and drive air quality policies.

Vijay Kumar et al.

Status: open (until 06 Jul 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on amt-2023-62', Anonymous Referee #1, 04 May 2023 reply

Vijay Kumar et al.

Vijay Kumar et al.


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Short summary
Low-cost sensors are becoming increasingly important in air quality monitoring due to their affordability and ease of deployment. While low-cost sensors have the potential to democratize air quality monitoring, their use must be accompanied by careful interpretation and validation of the data. Analysis of their long-term data record clearly shows that the reported data from low-cost sensors may not be equally sensitive to all emission sources, which can complicate policymaking.