Biomass burning combustion efficiency observed from space using measurements of CO and NO2 by the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI)

Ivar R. Van Der Velde*, Guido R. Van Der Werf, Sander Houweling, Henk J. Eskes, J. Pepijn Veefkind, Tobias Borsdorff, Ilse Aben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The global fire emission inventories depend on ground and airborne measurements of species-specific emission factors (EFs), which translate dry matter losses due to fires to actual trace gas and aerosol emissions. The EFs of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) can function as a proxy for combustion efficiency to distinguish flaming from smoldering combustion. The uncertainties in these EFs remain large as they are limited by the spatial and temporal representativeness of the measurements. The global coverage of satellite observations has the advantage of filling this gap, making these measurements highly complementary to ground-based or airborne data. We present a new analysis of biomass burning pollutants using space-borne data to investigate the spatiotemporal efficiency of fire combustion. Column measurements of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide from the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) are used to quantify the relative atmospheric enhancements of these species over different fire-prone regions around the world. We find spatial and temporal patterns in the classCombining double low linespan classCombining double low lineratio that point to distinct differences in biomass burning behavior. Such differences are induced by the burning phase of the fire (e.g., high-temperature flaming vs. low-temperature smoldering combustion) and burning practice (e.g., the combustion of logs, coarse woody debris and soil organic matter vs. the combustion of fine fuels such as savanna grasses). The sampling techniques and the signal-to-noise ratio of the retrieved <span classCombining double low signals were quantified with WRF-Chem experiments and showed similar distinct differences in combustion types. The TROPOMI measurements show that the fraction of surface smoldering combustion is much larger for the boreal forest fires in the upper Northern Hemisphere and peatland fires in Indonesia. These types of fires cause a much larger increase (3 to 6 times) in <span classCombining double low lineinline-formula relative to span classCombining double low lineinline-formula than elsewhere in the world. The high spatial and temporal resolution of TROPOMI also enables the detection of spatial gradients in combustion efficiency at smaller regional scales. For instance, in the Amazon, we found higher combustion efficiency (up to 3-fold) for savanna fires than for the nearby tropical deforestation fires. Out of two investigated fire emission products, the TROPOMI measurements support the broad spatial pattern of combustion efficiency rooted in GFED4s. Meanwhile, TROPOMI data also add new insights into regional variability in combustion characteristics that are not well represented in the different emission inventories, which can help the fire modeling community to improve their representation of the spatiotemporal variability in EFs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5972021
Pages (from-to)597-616
Number of pages20
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Nether-

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Royal Society of Chemistry. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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