Articles | Volume 11, issue 20
Research article
24 Oct 2011
Research article |  | 24 Oct 2011

An important fingerprint of wildfires on the European aerosol load

F. Barnaba, F. Angelini, G. Curci, and G. P. Gobbi

Abstract. Wildland fires represent the major source of fine aerosols, i.e., atmospheric particles with diameters <1 μm. The largest numbers of these fires occur in Africa, Asia and South America, but a not negligible fraction also occurs in Eastern Europe and former USSR countries, particularly in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Besides the impact of large forest fires, recent studies also highlighted the crucial role played by routine agricultural fires in Eastern Europe and Russia on the Arctic atmosphere. An evaluation of the impact of these fires over Europe is currently not available. The assessment of the relative contribution of fires to the European aerosol burden is hampered by the complex mixing of natural and anthropogenic particle types across the continent. In this study we use long term (2002–2007) satellite-based fires and aerosol data coupled to atmospheric trajectory modelling in the attempt to estimate the wildfires contribution to the European aerosol optical thickness (AOT). Based on this dataset, we provide evidence that fires-related aerosols play a major role in shaping the AOT yearly cycle at the continental scale. In general, the regions most impacted by wildfires emissions and/or transport are Eastern and Central Europe as well as Scandinavia. Conversely, a minor impact is found in Western Europe and in the Western Mediterranean. We estimate that in spring 5 to 35% of the European fine fraction AOT (FFAOT) is attributable to wildland fires. The estimated impact maximizes in April (20–35%) in Eastern and Central Europe as well as in Scandinavia and in the Central Mediterranean. An important contribution of wildfires to the FFAOT is also found in summer over most of the continent, particularly in August over Eastern Europe (28%) and the Mediterranean regions, from Turkey (34%) to the Western Mediterranean (25%). Although preliminary, our results suggest that this fires-related, continent-wide haze plays a not negligible role on the European radiation budget, and possibly, on the European air quality, therefore representing a clear target for mitigation.

Final-revised paper