An aerosol boomerang: Rapid around-the-world transport of smoke from the December 2006 Australian forest fires observed from space

R.J. Dirksen, K. Folkert Boersma, J. Laat, de, P. Stammes, G.R. van der Werf, M. Val Martin, H.M. Kelder

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    We investigate rapid around-the-world transport of a smoke aerosol plume released by intense forest fires in southeastern Australia in December 2006. During the first half of December 2006, southeastern Australia suffered from severe drought and exceptionally high temperatures. On 14 December 2006, a passing cold front in combination with the intense heat from the fires causing pyro-convective lofting, injected a large mass of aerosol particles into the jet stream. We track the resulting aerosol plume using Aerosol Absorbing Index (AAI) observations from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) and find that it circumnavigated the world in 12 days. Using observations from OMI and the CALIOP (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation) spaceborne lidar, we show that the plume resided in the high troposphere at different stages of its evolution. In absence of CALIOP data, we explored OMI O <inf>2</inf>-O<inf>2</inf> pressures to obtain information on the aerosol plume height. Detailed radiative transfer calculations suggest that the current OMI O<inf>2</inf>-O<inf>2</inf> retrievals contain useful information on the altitude of the aerosol plume under specific conditions (high AAI, no clouds below). The observed two-dimensional evolution of the smoke aerosol plume and the vertical distribution of the plume detected by CALIOP is matched by simulations with the TM4 chemistry transport model for an injection height of 248 hPa (∼10 km). Injection heights at the surface and at 540 hPa (∼5 km) resulted in simulated vertical distributions that were 2-3 km too low relative to CALIOP observations and showed less agreement with the AAI patterns. The high injection altitude of 10 km mimics the effect of pyro-convective lofting as the additional buoyancy from the intense fires is not accounted for in the model. TM4 simulations with an inert and a water-soluble tracer reproduce the observed dilution of the plume and show that the latter gives the best agreement with the observations, suggesting that the ultimate removal of the aerosol particles is by scavenging. To our knowledge, this is the first detailed study of around-the-world long-range transport of forest fire emissions in the extratropical Southern Hemisphere. Copyright 2009 by the American Geophysical Union.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    JournalJournal of Geophysical Research. Atmospheres
    Issue numberD21201
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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