Tropical biomass burning smoke plume size, shape, reflectance, and age based on 2001–2009 MISR imagery of Borneo
1Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-3100, USA
2University High School, 4771 Campus Drive, Irvine, CA 92612, USA
*now at: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA
Abstract. Land clearing for crops and plantations and grazing results in anthropogenic burning of tropical forests and peatlands in Indonesia, where images of fire-generated aerosol plumes have been captured by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) since 2001. Our modeling studies show this smoke increases atmospheric heating, and reduces regional SST and dry-season precipitation, causing a potential feedback that increases drought-stress and air quality problems during El Niño years. Here we analyze the size, shape, optical properties, and age of fire-generated plumes in Borneo from 2001–2009. Most smoke flows with the prevailing southeasterly surface winds at 3–4 m s−1, and forms ovoid plumes whose mean length, height, and cross-plume width are 41 ± 1.4 (mean ± std. error) km, 708 ± 13 m, and 27 ± 0.75% of the plume length, respectively. Borneo smoke plume heights are similar to previously reported plume heights, yet Borneo plumes are nearly three times longer than previously studied plumes, possibly due to more persistent fires and greater fuel loads in peatlands than in other tropical forests. Plume area (median 169 ± 15 km2) varies exponentially with length, though for most plumes a linear relation provides a good approximation. The MISR-estimated plume optical properties involve greater uncertainties than the geometric properties, and show patterns consistent with smoke aging. Optical depth increases by 15–25% in the down-plume direction, consistent with hygroscopic growth and nucleation overwhelming the effects of particle dispersion. Both particle single-scattering albedo and top-of-atmosphere albedo peak about halfway down-plume, at values about 3% and 10% greater than at the origin, respectively. The initially oblong plumes become brighter and more circular with time, increasingly resembling smoke clouds. Wind speed does not explain a significant fraction of the variation in plume geometry. We provide a parameterization of plume shape that can help atmospheric models estimate the effects of plumes on weather, climate, and air quality. Plume age, the age of smoke furthest down-plume, is lognormally distributed with a median of 2.8 ± 0.3 h, significantly different than median ages reported in other studies. Intercomparison of our results with previous studies shows that the shape, height, optical depth, and lifetime characteristics reported for tropical biomass burning plumes on three continents are dissimilar and distinct from the same characteristics of wildfire plumes from the extratropics.