Study to Measure Impacts from Biomass Burning

global fire activity

Global fire activity for 10 days, April 30-May 9, 2012. Illustration taken from Art Sedlacek's presentation at the Atmospheric System Research Annual Meeting, 2013. (Courtesy: C. Ichoku and R. Kahn)

This summer and fall, a team of researchers led by BNL scientists will conduct a field campaign in the skies over the Pacific Northwest and Tennessee to measure the evolution of aerosols in wildfires and prescribed agriculture burns. 

Sponsored by the Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility, the Biomass Burning Observation Project (BBOP) will study the properties of aerosols generated in biomass burning events.  Bio-burning releases soot, organic aerosols and heat-trapping gases that are recognized to perturb Earth's climate both directly, through scattering and absorption of incoming shortwave radiation, and indirectly, by influencing cloud formation and precipitation.

"Biomass burns are important because they contribute large fractions of organic aerosols, generate a very rich suite of chemicals, and produce soot and tarballs," BNL’s Arthur Sedlacek said. "We want to understand how these burning events impact aerosol emissions and how these emissions impact climate."

The researchers will conduct measurements near active fires, where limited observations indicate rapid changes in aerosol properties, and in biomass burning plumes more than five hours old. Aerosol properties and their evolution will be determined as a function of fire type, defined according to fuel and the mix of flaming and smoldering combustion at the source.

Wildfires produce approximately 40 percent of all soot, which has been shown to contribute to global warming, and different stages of burns emit different types of aerosols. In addition, aerosols released from natural fires are different from manmade ones.

Scientists believe that aerosol effects on clouds may change the regional and global circulation systems that constitute Earth's climate. The BBOP researchers hope that their field study will contribute to a better understanding of how aerosols emitted by different types of fires may contribute to climate change.

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