1Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, P.O. BOX 64, 00014 Univ. of Helsinki, Finland
2Finnish Meteorological Institute, P.O. BOX 503, 00101 Helsinki, Finland
3Rustenburg Local Municipality, Rustenburg, Republic of South Africa
4Department of Physics, North-West University, Private Bag X 2046, Mmabatho, Republic of South Africa
5School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom, Republic of South Africa
Abstract. This study is based on 18 months (20 July 2006–5 February 2008) of continuous measurements of aerosol particle size distributions, air ion size distributions, trace gas concentrations and basic meteorology in a semi-clean savannah environment in Republic of South Africa. New particle formation and growth was observed on 69% of the days and bursts of non-growing ions/sub-10 nm particles on additional 14% of the days. The new particle formation and growth rates were among the highest reported in the literature for continental boundary layer locations; median 10 nm formation rate was 2.2 cm−3s−1 and median 10–30 nm growth rate 8.9 nm h−1. The median 2 nm ion formation rate was 0.5 cm−3s−1 and the median ion growth rates were 6.2, 8.0 and 8.1 nm h−1 for size ranges 1.5–3 nm, 3–7 nm and 7–20 nm, respectively. Three different approaches were used to study the origin of the formation and growth rates: seasonal variation, air mass history analysis and estimated sulphuric acid contribution to the growth. The growth rates had a clear seasonal dependency with minimum during winter and maxima in spring and late summer and the air mass history analysis indicated the highest formation and growth rates to be associated with the area of highest VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions rather than the highest estimated sulphuric acid concentrations. The relative contribution of estimated sulphuric acid to the growth rate was decreasing with increasing particle size and could explain more than 20% of the observed growth rate only for the 1.5–3 nm size range. The implication is that the sulphuric acid alone is not enough to explain the growth, but the highest growth rates seem to originate in VOC emissions following from biological activity. The frequency of new particle formation, however, increased nearly monotonously with the estimated sulphuric acid reaching 100% at H2SO4 concentration of 4×107cm−3, which suggests the formation and growth to be independent of each other.