Articles | Volume 13, issue 10
Research article
24 May 2013
Research article |  | 24 May 2013

Global impact of smoke aerosols from landscape fires on climate and the Hadley circulation

M. G. Tosca, J. T. Randerson, and C. S. Zender

Abstract. Each year landscape fires across the globe emit black and organic carbon smoke particles that can last in the atmosphere for days to weeks. We characterized the climate response to these aerosols using an Earth system model. We used remote sensing observations of aerosol optical depth (AOD) and simulations from the Community Atmosphere Model, version 5 (CAM5) to optimize satellite-derived smoke emissions for high biomass burning regions. Subsequent global simulations using the adjusted fire emissions produced AODs that were in closer agreement with surface and space-based measurements. We then used CAM5, which included radiative aerosol effects, to evaluate the climate response to the fire-aerosol forcing. We conducted two 52 yr simulations, one with four sets of monthly cycling 1997–2009 fire emissions and one without. Fire emissions increased global mean annual AOD by 10% (+0.02) and decreased net all-sky surface radiation by 1% (1.3 W m−2). Elevated AODs reduced global surface temperatures by 0.13 ± 0.01 °C. Though global precipitation declined only slightly, patterns of precipitation changed, with large reductions near the Equator offset by smaller increases north and south of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). A combination of increased tropospheric heating and reduced surface temperatures increased equatorial subsidence and weakened the Hadley circulation. As a consequence, precipitation decreased over tropical forests in South America, Africa and equatorial Asia. These results are consistent with the observed correlation between global temperatures and the strength of the Hadley circulation and studies linking tropospheric heating from black carbon aerosols with tropical expansion.

Final-revised paper