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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 12, issue 7
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 3437–3454, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 3437–3454, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 11 Apr 2012

Research article | 11 Apr 2012

Tropical biomass burning smoke plume size, shape, reflectance, and age based on 2001–2009 MISR imagery of Borneo

C. S. Zender1, A. G. Krolewski2,*, M. G. Tosca1, and J. T. Randerson1 C. S. Zender et al.
  • 1Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-3100, USA
  • 2University High School, 4771 Campus Drive, Irvine, CA 92612, USA
  • *now at: Harvard College, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA

Abstract. Land clearing for crops, plantations and grazing results in anthropogenic burning of tropical forests and peatlands in Indonesia, where images of fire-generated aerosol plumes have been captured by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) since 2001. Here we analyze the size, shape, optical properties, and age of distinct fire-generated plumes in Borneo from 2001–2009. The local MISR overpass at 10:30 a.m. misses the afternoon peak of Borneo fire emissions, and may preferentially sample longer plumes from persistent fires burning overnight. Typically the smoke flows with the prevailing southeasterly surface winds at 3–4 m s−1, and forms ovoid plumes whose mean length, height, and cross-plume width are 41 km, 708 m, and 27% of the plume length, respectively. 50% of these plumes have length between 24 and 50 km, height between 523 and 993 m and width between 18% and 30% of plume length. Length and cross-plume width are lognormally distributed, while height follows a normal distribution. Borneo smoke plume heights are similar to previously reported plume heights, yet Borneo plumes are on average nearly three times longer than previously studied plumes. This could be due to sampling or to more persistent fires and greater fuel loads in peatlands than in other tropical forests. Plume area (median 169 km2, with 25th and 75th percentiles at 99 km2 and 304 km2, respectively) varies exponentially with length, though for most plumes a linear relation provides a good approximation. The MISR-estimated plume optical properties involve greater uncertainties than the geometric properties, and show patterns consistent with smoke aging. Optical depth increases by 15–25% in the down-plume direction, consistent with hygroscopic growth and nucleation overwhelming the effects of particle dispersion. Both particle single-scattering albedo and top-of-atmosphere reflectance peak about halfway down-plume, at values about 3% and 10% greater than at the origin, respectively. The initially oblong plumes become brighter and more circular with time, increasingly resembling smoke clouds. Wind speed does not explain a significant fraction of the variation in plume geometry. We provide a parameterization of plume shape that can help atmospheric models estimate the effects of plumes on weather, climate, and air quality. Plume age, the age of smoke furthest down-plume, is lognormally distributed with a median of 2.8 h (25th and 75th percentiles at 1.3 h and 4.0 h), different from the median ages reported in other studies. Intercomparison of our results with previous studies shows that the shape, height, optical depth, and lifetime characteristics reported for tropical biomass burning plumes on three continents are dissimilar and distinct from the same characteristics of non-tropical wildfire plumes.

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