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Taking the pulse of pyrocumulus clouds

Gatebe, C., T. Várnai, R. Poudyal, C. Ichoku, and M. D. King (2012), Taking the pulse of pyrocumulus clouds, Atmos. Environ., 52, 121-130, doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2012.01.045.

Large forest fires are a known natural and dominant disturbance factor in high northern latitudes, and form pyrocumulus (pyroCu), and occasionally pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) clouds. These clouds can transport emissions into the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere (UT/LS) and produce significant regional and even global climate effects, as is the case with some volcanoes. However, the lack of observational data within pyroCu or pyroCb complicates our ability to investigate pyro-convection and to understand the vertical and cross-isentropic transport mechanisms responsible for UT/LS injection. Here, we report detailed airborne radiation measurements within strong pyroCu taken over boreal forest fires in Saskatchewan, Canada during the Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites (ARCTAS) summer field campaign in 2008. We find a prominent smoke core within the pyroCu, which is defined by strong extinction in the UV, VIS and NIR, and high gas-particle concentrations. We also find that the angular distribution of radiance within the pyroCu is closely related to the diffusion domain in water clouds, which is dominated by multiple scattering processes. The radiation field of pyroCu can be described by diffusion approximations that are comprised of simple cosine functions, which can be used to calculate the spatial and temporal characteristics of the radiance field, and applied in cloud resolving models. We demonstrate with Monte Carlo simulations that radiation transport in pyroCu is inherently a 3D problem and must account for particle absorption.

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Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)
Radiation Science Program (RSP)