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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 28 Sep 2018

Research article | 28 Sep 2018

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Biomass burning smoke heights over the Amazon observed from space

Laura Gonzalez-Alonso1, Maria Val Martin1,a, and Ralph A. Kahn2 Laura Gonzalez-Alonso et al.
  • 1Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, University of Sheffield, UK
  • 2Climate and Radiation Laboratory, Code 613, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA
  • anow at: Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, Animal Plant Sciences Department, University of Sheffield, UK

Abstract. We characterize the vertical distribution of biomass burning emissions across the Amazon during the biomass burning season with an extensive climatology of smoke plumes derived from MISR and MODIS (2005–2012) and CALIOP (2006–2012) observations. Smoke plume heights exhibit substantial variability, spanning a few hundred meters up to 6km above the terrain. However, the majority of the smoke is located at altitudes below 2.5 km. About 60% of smoke plumes are observed during drought years, at the peak month of the burning season (September; 40–50%) and over tropical forest and savanna regions (94%). At the time of the MISR observations (10:00–11:00LT), the highest plumes are detected over grassland fires (1100m maximum plume height average) and the lowest plumes occur over tropical forest fires (~800m). A similar pattern is found later in the day (14:00–15:00LT) with CALIOP, although at higher altitudes (2300m grassland versus 2000m tropical forest), as CALIOP typically detects smoke at higher altitudes due to its greater sensitivity to thin aerosol layers. On average, 3–20% of the fires inject smoke into the free troposphere; this percentage can increase toward the end of the burning season (November; 15–40%). We find a well-defined seasonal cycle between MISR plume heights, MODIS Fire Radiative Power (FRP) and atmospheric stability across the main biomes of the Amazon, with higher smoke plumes, more intense fires and reduced atmospheric stability conditions toward the end of the burning season. Lower smoke plume heights are detected during drought (800m) compared to non-drought (1100m) conditions, in particular over tropical forest and savanna fires. Drought conditions favour understory fires over tropical forest, which tend to produce smouldering combustion and low smoke injection heights. Droughts also seem to favour deeper boundary layers and the percentage of smoke plumes that reach the FT is lower during these dry conditions. Consistent with previous studies, the MISR mid-visible aerosol optical depth demonstrates that smoke makes a significant contribution to the total aerosol loading over the Amazon, with important implications for air quality. This work highlights the importance of biome type, fire properties and atmospheric conditions for plume dynamics, as well as the effect of drought conditions on smoke loading. In addition, our study demonstrates that combined observations of MISR and CALIOP allows for better constraints on the vertical distribution of smoke from biomass burning over the Amazon.

Laura Gonzalez-Alonso et al.
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Laura Gonzalez-Alonso et al.
Laura Gonzalez-Alonso et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The vertical distribution of fire smoke and factors that control its rise had not been quantified across the Amazon yet. We developed a satellite-based long record of smoke plume heights. We find that smoke heights are driven by many factors: vegetation, seasonality, time of day, fire intensity, and atmospheric and drought conditions. Also, drought increases fire pollution, with implications for air quality. Policies to control fires may be crucial in the future as more droughts are projected.
The vertical distribution of fire smoke and factors that control its rise had not been...