Source apportionment of molecular markers and organic aerosol--1. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and methodology for data visualization

Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Dec 15;40(24):7803-10. doi: 10.1021/es0510414.


Individual organic compounds often referred to as molecular markers are used in conjunction with the chemical mass balance (CMB) model to apportion sources of primary organic aerosol. This paper presents a methodology to visualize molecular marker data; it allows comparison of ambient data and source profiles and allows assessment of chemical stability and aging. The method is intended to complement traditional quantitative source apportionment analysis. The core of the technique involves construction of plots of ratios of species concentrations (ratio-ratio plots) in which source profiles appear as points connected by linear mixing lines. The approach is illustrated using data collected over a 1-year period in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The analysis considers for elemental carbon and a number of high molecular weight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) commonly used as molecular markers in CMB: benzo(b+j+k)fluoranthene, benzo(e)pyrene, benzo[g,h,i]perylene, coronene, and indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene. In Pittsburgh, the ambient concentrations of these PAHs are higher than in other cities in the United States; they are also strongly correlated consistent with a single, dominant source. Both ratio-ratio plots and CMB analysis indicate that this source is metallurgical coke production. Although emissions from coke production dominate ambient PAH concentrations, on most study days they contributed little fine particle mass. Ratio-ratio plots are then used to investigate the feasibility of using PAHs to help differentiate between gasoline and diesel vehicle emissions. Ambient concentrations of these large PAHs provide little information on the gasoline-diesel split because of the strong influence of local emissions from coke production combined with evidence of photochemical decay of PAHs in the regional air mass. Decay of PAHs will bias estimates of the gasoline-diesel split toward diesel emissions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols*
  • Organic Chemicals / chemistry
  • Polycyclic Compounds / chemistry*


  • Aerosols
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Polycyclic Compounds