A small radioactive source containing 3H
ionizes the molecules of the carrier gas (nitrogen or argon–methane), and a potential difference creates a small current. This current is reduced when an electronegative substance (such as a halocarbon) is introduced. The reduction in current is a measure of the concentration of the electronegative substance. The detection limit (threshold) varies greatly according to the substances to be analysed and can reach a mixing ratio of 10E-12. The linear dynamic range may be 10E4 but the maximum measuring value generally lies below 1 ppmv.
PAC, 1990, 62, 2167. 'Glossary of atmospheric chemistry terms (Recommendations 1990)' on page 2191 (https://doi.org/10.1351/pac199062112167)