Articles | Volume 15, issue 15
Research article
03 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 03 Aug 2015

Uncertainties in global aerosols and climate effects due to biofuel emissions

J. K. Kodros, C. E. Scott, S. C. Farina, Y. H. Lee, C. L'Orange, J. Volckens, and J. R. Pierce

Abstract. Aerosol emissions from biofuel combustion impact both health and climate; however, while reducing emissions through improvements to combustion technologies will improve health, the net effect on climate is largely unconstrained. In this study, we examine sensitivities in global aerosol concentration, direct radiative climate effect, and cloud-albedo aerosol indirect climate effect to uncertainties in biofuel emission factors, optical mixing state, and model nucleation and background secondary organic aerosol (SOA). We use the Goddard Earth Observing System global chemical-transport model (GEOS-Chem) with TwO Moment Aerosol Sectional (TOMAS) microphysics. The emission factors include amount, composition, size, and hygroscopicity, as well as optical mixing-state properties. We also evaluate emissions from domestic coal use, which is not biofuel but is also frequently emitted from homes. We estimate the direct radiative effect assuming different mixing states (homogeneous, core-shell, and external) with and without absorptive organic aerosol (brown carbon). We find the global-mean direct radiative effect of biofuel emissions ranges from −0.02 to +0.06 W m−2 across all simulation/mixing-state combinations with regional effects in source regions ranging from −0.2 to +0.8 W m−2. The global-mean cloud-albedo aerosol indirect effect (AIE) ranges from +0.01 to −0.02 W m−2 with regional effects in source regions ranging from −1.0 to −0.05 W m−2. The direct radiative effect is strongly dependent on uncertainties in emissions mass, composition, emissions aerosol size distributions, and assumed optical mixing state, while the indirect effect is dependent on the emissions mass, emissions aerosol size distribution, and the choice of model nucleation and secondary organic aerosol schemes. The sign and magnitude of these effects have a strong regional dependence. We conclude that the climate effects of biofuel aerosols are largely unconstrained, and the overall sign of the aerosol effects is unclear due to uncertainties in model inputs. This uncertainty limits our ability to introduce mitigation strategies aimed at reducing biofuel black carbon emissions in order to counter warming effects from greenhouse gases. To better understand the climate impact of particle emissions from biofuel combustion, we recommend field/laboratory measurements to narrow constraints on (1) emissions mass, (2) emission size distribution, (3) mixing state, and (4) ratio of black carbon to organic aerosol.

Short summary
We examine sensitivities in aerosol concentration and climate effects from biofuel combustion emissions. We find a strong sensitivity in the overall sign and magnitude of the direct radiative effect and cloud-albedo indirect effect due to uncertainties regarding emissions size distribution, composition, mass, and optical mixing state. This uncertainty limits our ability to evaluate black carbon mitigation strategies to counter warming effects from greenhouse gases.
Final-revised paper