Headline: Unraveling a black box: An open-source methodology for the field calibration of small air quality sensors

The last two decades have seen substantial technological advances in the development of low-cost air pollution instruments using small sensors. While their use continues to spread across the field of atmospheric chemistry, the air quality monitoring community, as well as for commercial and private use, challenges remain in ensuring data quality and comparability of calibration methods. This study introduces a seven-step methodology for the field calibration of low-cost sensors using reference instrumentation with user-friendly guidelines, open access code, and a discussion of common barriers to such an approach. The methodology has been developed and is applicable for gas-phase pollutants, such as for the measurement of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or ozone (O3). A full example of the application of this methodology to a case study in an urban environment using both Multiple Linear Regression (MLR) and the Random Forest (RF) machine-learning technique is presented with relevant R code provided, including error estimation. In this case, we have applied it to the calibration of metal oxide gas-phase sensors (MOS). Results reiterate previous findings that MLR and RF are similarly accurate, though with differing limitations. The methodology presented here goes a step further than most studies by including explicit, transparent steps for addressing model selection, validation, and tuning, as well as addressing the common issues of autocorrelation and multicollinearity. We also highlight the need for standardized reporting of methods for data cleaning and flagging, model selection and tuning, and model metrics. In the absence of a standardized methodology for the calibration of low-cost sensors, we suggest a number of best practices for future studies using low-cost sensors to ensure greater comparability of research.

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Schmitz, S., Towers, S., Villena, G., Caseiro, A., Wegener, R., Klemp, D., Langer, I., Meier, F., & von Schneidemesser, E. (2021). Unraveling a black box: An open-source methodology for the field calibration of small air quality sensors. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques Discussions. doi:10.5194/amt-2020-489.

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