14 Oct 2022
14 Oct 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Ground solar absorption observations of total column CO, CO2, CH4, and aerosol optical depth from California’s Sequoia Lightning Complex Fire: Emission factors and modified combustion efficiency at large scales

Isis Frausto-Vicencio1, Sajjan Heerah2, Aaron G. Meyer2, Harrison A. Parker3, Manvendra Dubey2, and Francesca M. Hopkins1 Isis Frausto-Vicencio et al.
  • 1Department of Environmental Sciences, University of California, Riverside, 92507, USA
  • 2Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, 87545, USA
  • 3California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 91125, USA

Abstract. With global wildfires becoming more widespread and severe, tracking their emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants is becoming increasingly important. Wildfire emissions have primarily been characterized by in situ laboratory, and field observations at fine scales. While this approach captures the mechanisms relating emissions to combustion phase and fuel properties, their evaluation on large scale plumes has been limited. In this study, we report remote observations of total column trace gases and aerosols in the 2020 wildfire season of smoke plumes from the Sierra Nevada of California with an EM27/SUN solar Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer. We derive total column aerosol optical depth (AOD), emission factors (EF) and modified combustion efficiency (MCE) for these fires, and evaluate relationships between them based on combustion phase at large scales. We demonstrate that the EM27/SUN effectively detects changes of CO, CO2 and CH4 in the atmospheric column at ~10 km scales that are attributed to wildfire emissions. These observations are used to derive total column EFCO of 120.5 ± 12.2 and EFCH4 of 4.3 ± 0.8 for a large smoke plume event in mixed combustion phases. These values are consistent with in situ relationships measured in similar temperate coniferous forest wildfires. FTIR derived AOD was compared to a nearby AERONET station and observed ratios of AOD to XCO were consistent with those previously observed from satellites. We also show that co-located XCO observations from the TROPOMI satellite-based instrument are 9.7 % higher than our EM27/SUN observations during the wildfire period. Finally, we put wildfire CH4 emissions in context of the California state CH4 budget and estimate that 213.7 ± 49.8 Gg CH4 were emitted by large wildfires in California during 2020, about 13.6 % of the total state CH4 emissions in 2019. Our novel application of an EM27/SUN solar spectrometer to quantify wildfire emission ratios at large scales follows predictive relationships that are consistent with in situ studies, offering promise for extensive monitoring from ground networks and satellite remote sensing.

Isis Frausto-Vicencio et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2022-671', Anonymous Referee #1, 09 Nov 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2022-671', Anonymous Referee #2, 10 Nov 2022

Isis Frausto-Vicencio et al.

Isis Frausto-Vicencio et al.


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Short summary
Wildfires are increasing in the Western US making it critical to understand the impacts of greenhouse gases and air pollutants to the atmosphere. We used a ground-based remote sensing technique to measure the amount of greenhouse gases and aerosol present in the atmosphere. We isolate a large smoke plume being transported and calculate variables to understand the fuel properties and combustion phases. We find that a significant amount of methane is emitted from wildfires.