Articles | Volume 10, issue 24
16 Dec 2010
 | 16 Dec 2010

Variability of aerosol vertical distribution in the Sahel

O. Cavalieri, F. Cairo, F. Fierli, G. Di Donfrancesco, M. Snels, M. Viterbini, F. Cardillo, B. Chatenet, P. Formenti, B. Marticorena, and J. L. Rajot

Abstract. In this work, we have studied the seasonal and inter-annual variability of the aerosol vertical distribution over Sahelian Africa for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008, characterizing the different kind of aerosols present in the atmosphere in terms of their optical properties observed by ground-based and satellite instruments, and their sources searched for by using trajectory analysis. This study combines data acquired by three ground-based micro lidar systems located in Banizoumbou (Niger), Cinzana (Mali) and M'Bour (Senegal) in the framework of the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA), by the AEROsol RObotic NETwork (AERONET) sun-photometers and by the space-based Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) onboard the CALIPSO satellite (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Observations).

During winter, the lower levels air masses arriving in the Sahelian region come mainly from North, North-West and from the Atlantic area, while in the upper troposphere air flow generally originates from West Africa, crossing a region characterized by the presence of large biomass burning sources. The sites of Cinzana, Banizoumbou and M'Bour, along a transect of aerosol transport from East to West, are in fact under the influence of tropical biomass burning aerosol emission during the dry season, as revealed by the seasonal pattern of the aerosol optical properties, and by back-trajectory studies.

Aerosol produced by biomass burning are observed mainly during the dry season and are confined in the upper layers of the atmosphere. This is particularly evident for 2006, which was characterized by a large presence of biomass burning aerosols in all the three sites.

Biomass burning aerosol is also observed during spring when air masses originating from North and East Africa pass over sparse biomass burning sources, and during summer when biomass burning aerosol is transported from the southern part of the continent by the monsoon flow.

During summer months, the entire Sahelian region is under the influence of Saharan dust aerosols: the air masses in low levels arrive from West Africa crossing the Sahara desert or from the Southern Hemisphere crossing the Guinea Gulf while in the upper layers air masses still originate from North, North-East. The maximum of the desert dust activity is observed in this period which is characterized by large AOD (above 0.2) and backscattering values. It also corresponds to a maximum in the extension of the aerosol vertical distribution (up to 6 km of altitude). In correspondence, a progressive cleaning up of the lowermost layers of the atmosphere is occurring, especially evident in the Banizoumbou and Cinzana sites.

Summer is in fact characterized by extensive and fast convective phenomena.

Lidar profiles show at times large dust events loading the atmosphere with aerosol from the ground up to 6 km of altitude. These events are characterized by large total attenuated backscattering values, and alternate with very clear profiles, sometimes separated by only a few hours, indicative of fast removal processes occurring, likely due to intense convective and rain activity.

The inter-annual variability in the three year monitoring period is not very significant. An analysis of the aerosol transport pathways, aiming at detecting the main source regions, revealed that air originated from the Saharan desert is present all year long and it is observed in the lower levels of the atmosphere at the beginning and at the end of the year. In the central part of the year it extends upward and the lower levels are less affected by air masses from Saharan desert when the monsoon flow carries air from the Guinea Gulf and the Southern Hemisphere inland.

Final-revised paper