Satellite Remote Sensing of Smoke Particle Optical Properties, Their Evolution and Controlling Factors
Junghenn, Katherine Teresa
Kahn, Ralph A.
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The optical and chemical properties of biomass burning (BB) smoke particles greatly affect the impact wildfires have on climate and air quality. Previous work has demonstrated some links between smoke properties and factors such as fuel type and meteorology. However, the factors controlling BB particle speciation at emission are not adequately understood, nor are those driving particle aging during atmospheric transport. As such, modeling wildfire smoke impacts on climate and air quality remains challenging. The potential to provide robust, statistical characterizations of BB particles based on ecosystem and ambient conditions with remote sensing data is investigated here. Space-based Multi-angle Imaging Spectrometer (MISR) observations, combined with the MISR Research Aerosol (RA) algorithm and the MISR Interactive Explorer (MINX) tool, are used to retrieve smoke plume aerosol optical depth (AOD), and to provide constraints on plume vertical extent, smoke age, and particle size, shape, light-absorption, and absorption spectral dependence. These capabilities are evaluated using near-coincident in situ data from two aircraft field campaigns. Results indicate that the satellite retrievals successfully map particle-type distributions, and that the observed trends in retrieved particle size and light-absorption can be reliably attributed to aging processes such as gravitational settling, oxidation, secondary particle formation, and condensational growth. The remote-sensing methods are then applied to numerous wildfire plumes in Canada and Alaska that are not constrained by field observations. For these plumes, satellite measurements of fire radiative power and land cover characteristics are also collected, as well as short-term meteorological data and drought index. We find statistically significant differences in the retrieved smoke properties based on land cover type, with fires in forests producing the tallest and thickest plumes containing the largest, brightest particles, and fires in savannas and grasslands exhibiting the opposite. Additionally, the inferred dominant aging mechanisms and the timescales over which they occur vary between land types. This work demonstrates the potential of remote sensing to constrain BB particle properties and the mechanisms governing their evolution, over entire ecosystems. It also begins to realize this potential, as a means of improving regional and global climate and air quality modeling in a rapidly changing world.