Canadian and Alaskan Wildfire Smoke Particle Properties, Their Evolution, and...

Noyes, K. J., R. Kahn, J. Limbacher, and Z. Li (2022), Canadian and Alaskan Wildfire Smoke Particle Properties, Their Evolution, and Controlling Factors, Using Satellite Observations. Atm. Chem. Phys., 22, 10267-10290, doi:10.5194/acp-22-10267-2022.

The optical and chemical properties of biomass burning (BB) smoke particles greatly affect the impact that wildfires have on climate and air quality. Previous work has demonstrated some links between smoke properties and factors such as fuel type and meteorology. However, the factors controlling BB particle speciation at emission are not adequately understood nor are the factors driving particle aging during atmospheric transport. As such, modeling wildfire smoke impacts on climate and air quality remains challenging. The potential to provide robust, statistical characterizations of BB particles based on ecosystem type and ambient environmental conditions with remote sensing data is investigated here. Space-based Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) observations, combined with the MISR Research Aerosol (RA) algorithm and the MISR Interactive Explorer (MINX) tool, are used to retrieve smoke plume aerosol optical depth (AOD) and to provide constraints on plume vertical extent; smoke age; and particle size, shape, light-absorption properties, and absorption spectral dependence. These tools are applied to numerous wildfire plumes in Canada and Alaska, across a range of conditions, to create a regional inventory of BB particle-type temporal and spatial distribution. We then statistically compare these results with satellite measurements of fire radiative power (FRP) and land cover characteristics, as well as short-term climate, meteorological, and drought information from the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA-2) reanalysis and the North American Drought Monitor. We find statistically significant differences in the retrieved smoke properties based on land cover type, with fires in forests producing the thickest plumes containing the largest, brightest particles and fires in savannas and grasslands exhibiting the opposite. Additionally, the inferred dominant aging mechanisms and the timescales over which they occur vary systematically between land types. This work demonstrates the potential of remote sensing to constrain BB particle properties and the mechanisms governing their evolution over entire ecosystems. It also begins to realize this potential, as a means of improving regional and global climate and air quality modeling in a rapidly changing world.

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Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)
Climate Variability and Change Program
Terra- MISR
Funding Sources: 
NPP Program, ACMAP, MISR Project, Terra Project