The Australian bushfires of February 2009: MIPAS observations and GEM-AQ model results
Abstract. Starting on 7 February 2009, southeast Australia was devastated by large bushfires, which burned an area of about 3000 km2 on this day alone. This event was extraordinary, because a large number of combustion products were transported into the uppermost troposphere and lower stratosphere within a few days. Various biomass burning products released by the fire were observed by the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) on the Envisat satellite. We tracked the plume using MIPAS C2H2, HCN and HCOOH single-scan measurements on a day-to-day basis. The measurements were compared with a high-resolution model run of the Global Environmental Multiscale Air Quality (GEM-AQ) model. Generally there is good agreement between the spatial distribution of measured and modelled pollutants. Both MIPAS and GEM-AQ show a fast southeastward transport of the pollutants to New Zealand within one day. During the following 3–4 days, the plume remained northeastward of New Zealand and was located at altitudes of 15 to 18 km. Thereafter its lower part was transported eastward, followed by westward transport of its upper part. On 17 February the eastern part had reached southern South America and on 20 February the central South Atlantic. On the latter day a second relic of the plume was observed moving eastward above the South Pacific. Between 20 February and the first week of March, the upper part of the plume was transported westward over Australia and the Indian Ocean towards southern Africa. First evidence for entry of the pollutants into the stratosphere was found in MIPAS data of 11 February, followed by larger amounts on 17 February and the days thereafter. From MIPAS data, C2H2/HCN and HCOOH/HCN enhancement ratios of 0.76 and 2.16 were calculated for the first days after the outbreak of the fires, which are considerably higher than the emission ratios assumed for the model run and at the upper end of values found in literature. From the temporal decrease of the enhancement ratios, mean lifetimes of 16–20 days and of 8–9 days were calculated for measured C2H2 and HCOOH. The respective lifetimes calculated from the model data are 18 and 12 days.
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