Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

David Delene


Cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) serve as the nucleation sites for the condensation of water vapor in Earth's atmosphere and are important for their effect on climate and weather. The influence of CCN on cloud radiative properties (aerosol indirect effect) is the most uncertain of quantified radiative forcing changes that have occurred since pre-industrial times. CCN influence the weather because intrinsic and extrinsic aerosol properties affect cloud formation and precipitation development. To quantify these effects, it is necessary to accurately measure CCN, which requires accurate calibrations using a consistent methodology. Furthermore, the calibration uncertainties are required to compare measurements from different field projects. CCN uncertainties also aid the integration of CCN measurements with atmospheric models. The commercially available Droplet Measurement Technologies (DMT) CCN Counter is used by many research groups, so it is important to quantify its calibration uncertainty.

Uncertainties in the calibration of the DMT CCN counter exist in the flow rate and supersaturation values. The concentration depends on the accuracy of the flow rate calibration, which does not have a large (4.3 %) uncertainty. The supersaturation depends on chamber pressure, temperature, and flow rate. The supersaturation calibration is a complex process since the chamber’s supersaturation must be inferred from a temperature difference measurement. Additionally, calibration errors can result from the K��r theory assumptions, fitting methods utilized, the influence of multiply-charged particles, and calibration points used. In order to determine the calibration uncertainties and the pressure dependence of the supersaturation calibration, three calibrations are done at each pressure level: 700, 840, and 980 hPa. Typically 700 hPa is the pressure used for aircraft measurements in the boundary layer, 840 hPa is the calibration pressure at DMT in Boulder, CO, and 980 hPa is the average surface pressure at Grand Forks, ND.

The supersaturation calibration uncertainty is 2.3, 3.1, and 4.4 % for calibrations done at 700, 840, and 980 hPa respectively. The supersaturation calibration change with pressure is on average 0.047 % supersaturation per 100 hPa. The supersaturation calibrations done at UND are 42-45 % lower than supersaturation calibrations done at DMT approximately 1 year previously. Performance checks confirmed that all major leaks developed during shipping were fixed before conducting the supersaturation calibrations. Multiply-charged particles passing through the Electrostatic Classifier may have influenced DMT's activation curves, which is likely part of the supersaturation calibration difference. Furthermore, the fitting method used to calculate the activation size and the limited calibration points are likely significant sources of error in DMT's supersaturation calibration.

While the DMT CCN counter’s calibration uncertainties are relatively small, and the pressure dependence is easily accounted for, the calibration methodology used by different groups can be very important. The insights gained from the careful calibration of the DMT CCN counter indicate that calibration of scientific instruments using complex methodology is not trivial.