The Aethalometer® celebrates its 40th anniversary
The Aethalometer® celebrates its 40th anniversary
The story began 40 years ago
In the 1970’s, studies of ‘carbonaceous aerosols’ as a component of air pollution were only just beginning. Most people believed that “soot and smoke” were an extinct, historical relic of coal-burning steam engines. ‘Black Carbon’ had not even been defined: people didn’t think that it existed. Air pollution was simply car exhaust which created photochemical ozone ‘smog’.
Official document of the Aethalometer
August 20th, 2020, is exactly 40 years after the first official document that described the Aethalometer.
First-ever real-time data of BC measurement
Tony Hansen, 2016
As a young scientist at the beginning of his career, Tony Hansen showed a gray spot on a filter to “the most important scientist in air pollution” at that time. He asked a simple question: “What do you think this black stuff is?” The answer was: “It’s not important, you’re wasting your time, go home. Soot does not exist in the modern atmosphere.” Tony was not discouraged! The Berkeley group studied the physical and chemical properties of this material, defined it, and called it ‘Black Carbon’. Tony invented an instrument to measure the rate of blackening of a filter spot and derived the name from Classical Greek. The first real-time measurements on the ground were in a field study in 1980, and a primitive instrument flew on a research aircraft in 1982.
Aircraft study of the ‘Arctic Haze’, 1984.
In the mid-1980s, Tony presented his research on Black Carbon in the Arctic at a conference on global monitoring. Dr. Neil Trivett from Canada (now deceased) came up to Tony and said: “I want one of those instruments”. Tony replied: “We’re a Government lab, we don’t make things to sell to other people”. Trivett said: “Either you make one for me in your garage, or I’ll get my technician to figure out how it works, and we’ll make a copy of it, ourselves”.
Tony in his workshop in 1986
Tony returned home and decided to make Aethalometers in his garden shed workshop (which he had built the previous year).
The Canadians ultimately ordered four, and Tony was in business. He founded the company ‘Magee Scientific’ in 1986. The first users were geophysical scientists who wondered how Black Carbon – an inert tracer material formed only by combustion – could be transported to the most remote parts of the planet.
1990’s – Trademark
In 1990 the name of the instrument – Aethalometer – received a trademark.
1990’s – South Pole
In 1997 Tony installed an Aethalometer at the South Pole: and he re-visited Antarctica nine more times with projects, including the construction of autonomous, solar-powered insulated enclosures.
Interest in Black Carbon led to increasing demand for instruments, more than Tony could make “by hand” in his shed himself. In 1996 he contracted production to an OEM manufacturer in Slovenia – 10.000 km from his home – purely due to personal connections. Even today, many of those instruments are still working: a testament to excellent design and reliable manufacturing.
During this period, public health scientists started to realize the toxicity of diesel exhaust – and the Aethalometer provided instant detection. By the end of this decade, Black Carbon was recognized as the number one indicator of the adverse health effects of combustion emissions.
At the end of millennium, in 1997, the first www.mageesci.com website was put online … initially in text only (these were early days!) It was a start of a new era.
2000’s – Aerosol company
The start of the new millennium saw another important milestone: absorption of solar radiation by Black Carbon was recognized as the second most important contributor to climate change, second only to CO2.
Health effects; climate change; visibility; environmental justice; long-range transport: as all of these interests rose, the need for instruments increased, both for fundamental research as well as routine monitoring. In 2007 Tony established the company ‘Aerosol d.o.o.’ in Slovenia, dedicated purely for manufacturing, development, research, global distribution and support for Aethalometers and associated equipment. We began with a local team of 6 smart, skilled, and motivated people in Ljubljana – and one person who never slept, in California.
2010’s – Model AE33 Aethalometer®, the ‘Global Standard’ instrument
The advanced Model AE33 Aethalometer® was developed by Aerosol and released in 2012. Thanks to its rugged design and advanced features, it has been a great success and has become the ‘Global Standard’ instrument for measuring Black Carbon aerosols.
Aerosol also recently developed the Total Carbon Analyzer, which revolutionizes the speciation of ‘EC/OC’ aerosols: manufactures the ‘DRI-2015’ multi-wavelength thermal analyzer under license from the Desert Research Institute in USA: and makes many accessories.
Today – Team with partners in almost 40 countries all over the world
Several thousand Aethalometers have been installed world-wide and are operating in more than 70 countries on all 7 continents: from gold mines in the US to glaciers in the Himalayas; from the Amazon Jungle to the Sahara Desert; from Spitzbergen to the South Pole.
There are more than 7.000 scientific articles that reference the Aethalometer.
The Aethalometer provides real-time monitoring, quantitation, and speciation of Black (and ‘Brown’) Carbon aerosols. Although Black Carbon is not (yet) a designated criteria pollutant, it is measured and monitored by official agencies in all major countries. This data is used to study and regulate:
- Public Health and Occupational Health
- Climate Change
- Stationary Source Emissions
- Vehicle and Engine Emissions
- Modification of Precipitation
- Impacts on Agricultural Yields
- Degradation of Cultural Heritage
The Aethalometer is being continuously developed and improved, with new features, models – to produce the best quality data, and to improve the monitoring and research of Black Carbon.
Tony’s quote: “Forty years ago, I could never have imagined any of this: and I certainly could not have imagined that I would be thanking thirty excellent people whose work literally is found in measurement stations all over the whole planet; with data and results in all the scientific journals.”
Finally, we would like to honestly thank all users, partners, scientists and supporters – for being part of this journey. Without your engagement, belief in our story, the Aethalometer would not be the best Black Carbon instrument in the world.