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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2019-589
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2019-589
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 24 Oct 2019

Submitted as: research article | 24 Oct 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

How emissions uncertainty influences the distribution and radiative impacts of smoke from fires in North America

Therese S. Carter1, Colette L. Heald1,2, Jose L. Jimenez3, Pedro Campuzano-Jost3, Yutaka Kondo4, Nobuhiro Moteki5, Joshua P. Schwarz6, Christine Wiedinmyer7, Anton S. Darmenov8, Arlindo M. da Silva8, and Johannes W. Kaiser9 Therese S. Carter et al.
  • 1Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  • 2Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  • 3Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Department of Chemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA
  • 4Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
  • 5Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, Japan
  • 6Chemical Sciences Division, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO 80305, USA
  • 7National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307, USA
  • 8NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
  • 9Deutscher Wetterdienst, Offenbach am Main, Germany

Abstract. Fires and the aerosols that they emit impact air quality, health, and climate, but the abundance and properties of carbonaceous aerosol (both black carbon and organic carbon) from biomass burning (BB) remain uncertain and poorly constrained. We aim to quantify the uncertainties associated with fire emissions and their air quality and radiative impacts from underlying dry matter consumed and emissions factors. To explore this, we compare model simulations from a global chemical transport model, GEOS-Chem, driven by a variety of fire emission inventories with surface and airborne observations of black carbon (BC) and organic aerosol (OA) concentrations and satellite-derived aerosol optical depth (AOD). We focus on two fire detection/burned area-based (FD/BA) inventories using burned area and active fire counts, respectively: the Global Fire Emissions Database version 4 (GFED4s) with small fires and the Fire INventory from NCAR version 1.5 (FINN1.5) and two fire radiative power (FRP)-based approaches: the Quick Fire Emission Dataset version 2.4 (QFED2.4) and the Global Fire Assimilation System version 1.2 (GFAS1.2). We show that, across the inventories, emissions of BB aerosol (BBA) differ by a factor of 4 to 7 over North America and that dry matter differences, not emissions factors, drive this spread. We find that simulations driven by QFED2.4 generally overestimate BC and, to a lesser extent, OA concentrations observations from two fire-influenced aircraft campaigns in North America (ARCTAS and DC3) and from the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE) network, while simulations driven by FINN1.5 substantially underestimate concentrations. The GFED4s and GFAS1.2-driven simulations provide the best agreement with OA and BC mass concentrations at the surface (IMPROVE), BC observed aloft (DC3 and ARCTAS), and AOD observed by MODIS over North America. We also show that a sensitivity simulation including an enhanced source of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) from fires based on the NOAA Fire Lab 2016 experiments produces substantial additional OA; however, the spread in the primary emissions estimates implies that this magnitude of SOA cannot be either confirmed or ruled out when comparing the simulations against the observations explored here. Given the substantial uncertainty in fire emissions, as represented by these four emission inventories, we find a sizeable range in BBA population-weighted exposure over Canada and the contiguous United States (0.5 to 1.6 µg m−3). We also show that the range in the estimated global direct radiative effect of carbonaceous aerosol from fires (−0.11 to −0.048 W m−2) is large and comparable to the direct radiative forcing of OA (−0.09 W m−2) estimated in AR5. Our analysis suggests that fire emissions uncertainty challenges our ability to accurately characterize the impact of smoke on air quality and climate.

Therese S. Carter et al.
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Status: open (until 19 Dec 2019)
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Short summary
Fires and the smoke they emit impact air quality, health, and climate, but the abundance and properties of smoke remain uncertain and poorly constrained. To explore this, we compare model simulations driven by four commonly-used fire emission inventories with surface, aloft, and satellite observations. We show that, across inventories, smoke emissions differ by factors of 4 to 7 over North America, challenging our ability to accurately characterize the impact of smoke on air quality and climate.
Fires and the smoke they emit impact air quality, health, and climate, but the abundance and...
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