1University of Helsinki, Department of Physical Sciences, P.O. Box 64, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
2Max-Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (MPIK), Atmospheric Physics Division, P.O. Box 103980, 69029 Heidelberg, Germany
3Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research, Permoserstrasse 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany
4Finnish Meteorological Institute, Erik Palmenin Aukio 1, P.O. Box 503, 00101 Helsinki, Finland
5University of Kuopio, Department of Applied Physics, P.O. Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
6Finnish Meteorological Institute and University of Kuopio, Department of Applied Physics, P.O. Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
Abstract. This study investigates the connections between atmospheric sulphuric acid and new particle formation during QUEST III and BACCI/QUEST IV campaigns. The campaigns have been conducted in Heidelberg (2004) and Hyytiälä (2005), the first representing a polluted site surrounded by deciduous forest, and the second a rural site in a boreal forest environment. We have studied the role of sulphuric acid in particle formation and growth by determining 1) the power-law dependencies between sulphuric acid ([H2SO4]), and particle concentrations (N3–6) or formation rates at 1 nm and 3 nm (J1 and J3; 2) the time delays between [H2SO4] and N3–6 or J3, and the growth rates for 1–3 nm particles; 3) the empirical nucleation coefficients A and K in relations J1=A[H2SO4] and J1=K[H2SO4]2, respectively; 4) theoretical predictions for J1 and J3 for the days when no significant particle formation is observed, based on the observed sulphuric acid concentrations and condensation sinks. In both environments, N3–6 or J3 and [H2SO4] were linked via a power-law relation with exponents typically ranging from 1 to 2. The result suggests that the cluster activation theory and kinetic nucleation have the potential to explain the observed particle formation. However, some differences between the sites existed: The 1–3 nm growth rates were slightly higher and the nucleation coefficients about an order of magnitude greater in Heidelberg than in Hyytiälä conditions. The time lags between J3 and [H2SO4] were consistently lower than the corresponding delays between N3–6 and [H2SO4]. The exponents in the J3∝[H2SO4]nJ3-connection were consistently higher than or equal to the exponents in the relation N3–6∝[H2SO4]nN36. In the J1 values, no significant differences were found between the observed rates on particle formation event days and the predictions on non-event days. The J3 values predicted by the cluster activation or kinetic nucleation hypotheses, on the other hand, were considerably lower on non-event days than the rates observed on particle formation event days. This study provides clear evidence implying that the main process limiting the observable particle formation is the competition between the growth of the freshly formed particles and their loss by scavenging, rather than the initial particle production by nucleation of sulphuric acid. In general, it can be concluded that the simple models based on sulphuric acid concentrations and particle formation by cluster activation or kinetic nucleation can predict the occurence of atmospheric particle formation and growth well, if the particle scavenging is accurately accounted for.