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Atmospheric Measurement Techniques An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 11, issue 2 | Copyright
Atmos. Meas. Tech., 11, 1087-1097, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 23 Feb 2018

Research article | 23 Feb 2018

A low-cost particulate matter (PM2.5) monitor for wildland fire smoke

Scott Kelleher1, Casey Quinn2, Daniel Miller-Lionberg1, and John Volckens1 Scott Kelleher et al.
  • 1Department of Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, USA
  • 2Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, USA

Abstract. Wildfires and prescribed fires produce emissions that degrade visibility and are harmful to human health. Smoke emissions and exposure monitoring is critical for public and environmental health protection; however, ground-level measurements of smoke from wildfires and prescribed fires has proven difficult, as existing (validated) monitoring technologies are expensive, cumbersome, and generally require line power. Few ground-based measurements are made during fire events, which limits our ability to assess the environmental and human health impacts of wildland fire smoke.

The objective of this work was to develop and validate an Outdoor Aerosol Sampler (OAS) – a filter-based air sampler that has been miniaturized, solar powered, and weatherproofed. This sampler was designed to overcome several of the technical challenges of wildland fire monitoring by being relatively inexpensive and solar powered. The sampler design objectives were achieved by leveraging low-cost electronic components, open-source programming platforms, and in-house fabrication methods. A direct-reading PM2.5 sensor was selected and integrated with the OAS to provide time-resolved concentration data. Cellular communications established via short message service (SMS) technology were utilized in transmitting online sensor readings and controlling the sampling device remotely. A Monte Carlo simulation aided in the selection of battery and solar power necessary to independently power the OAS, while keeping cost and size to a minimum.

Thirteen OAS were deployed to monitor smoke concentrations downwind from a large prescribed fire. Aerosol mass concentrations were interpolated across the monitoring network to depict smoke concentration gradients in the vicinity of the fire. Strong concentration gradients were observed (spatially and temporally) and likely present due to a combination of changing fire location and intensity, topographical features (e.g., mountain ridges), and diurnal weather patterns. Gravimetric filter measurements made by the OAS (when corrected for filter collection efficiency) showed relatively good agreement with measurements from an EPA federal equivalent monitor. However, the real-time optical sensor (Sharp GP2Y1023AU0F, Sharp Electronic Co.) within the OAS suffered from temperature dependence, drift, and imprecision.

Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Wildland fires, whether natural or prescribed, are increasing in frequency and magnitude worldwide. Smoke from these fires poses a threat to public and environmental health. This paper describes the development and evaluation of a low-cost monitor for wildland fire smoke. The monitor was designed to be compact, capable of real-time and time-integrated PM2.5 measures, and powered by a combination of solar and battery power. Initial field testing of this device gave encouraging results.
Wildland fires, whether natural or prescribed, are increasing in frequency and magnitude...