Search

Stay Connected

NOAA Research News

Soot from massive 2017 fire clouds persisted in stratosphere for months
Theo Stein
/ Categories: Research Headlines, Climate

Soot from massive 2017 fire clouds persisted in stratosphere for months

Analysis of fire cloud’s impact will help calibrate climate models

Thunderstorms generated by a group of giant wildfires in summer 2017 injected a small volcano’s worth of particles into the stratosphere, creating a smoke plume that lasted for almost nine months. CIRES and NOAA researchers studying the plume found that black carbon or soot in the smoke was key to the plume’s rapid rise: the soot absorbed solar radiation, heating the surrounding air and allowing the plume to quickly rise.

The billowing smoke clouds provided researchers with an ideal opportunity to test climate models that estimate how long the particulate cloud would persist. After achieving a maximum altitude of 14 miles (23 kilometers), it remained in the stratosphere for many months.

“We compared observations with  model calculations of the smoke plume. That helped us understand why the smoke plume rose so high and persisted so long, which can be applied to other stratospheric aerosol injections, such as from volcanoes or nuclear explosions,” said NOAA scientist Karen Rosenlof, a member of the author team that also included scientists from University of Colorado Boulder, Office of Naval Research, Rutgers and other institutions.  The findings were published today in the journal Science.

During the summer of 2017, wildfires raged across the Pacific Northwest. On August 12 in British Columbia, a group of fires and weather conditions produced five near-simultaneous towering clouds of smoke, called pyrocumulonimbus clouds, that lofted smoke high into the stratosphere. Within two months, the plume rose from its initial height of about seven to 14 miles (12 km) up to 14 miles (23 km) and persisted in the atmosphere for much longer—satellites could spot it even after eight months. 

“The forest fire smoke was an ideal case study for us because it was so well observed by satellites,” said lead author Pengfei Yu, a former CIRES scientist at NOAA, now at the Institute for Environment and Climate Research at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. 

Instruments on two satellites—the International Space Station and NASA’s CALIPSO—and on NOAA’s balloon-borne Printed Optical Particle Spectrometer, or POPS provided the aerosol measurements the researchers needed. 

Yu and his colleagues compared those observations with results from a global climate and chemistry model to get a match for how high up the smoke rose and how long it lasted in the atmosphere. With measurements of the rise rate and evolution of the smoke plume, the researchers could estimate the amount of black carbon in the smoke and how quickly the organic particulate material was destroyed in the stratosphere. The team included scientists from Rutgers, CU, NCAR, Naval Research Laboratory, among others.

They found that the plume’s rapid rise could only be explained by the presence of black carbon or soot, which comprised about two percent of the total mass of the smoke. The soot absorbed solar radiation, heated the surrounding air and forced the plume high into the atmosphere. 

Next, the team modeled the degradation of the smoke plume in the atmosphere. They found that to mimic the smoke’s observed rate of decay over the multi-month plume, there had to be a relatively slow loss of organic carbon through photochemical processes. The scientists said what they learned about modeling the lifetime of soot and other aerosols in the stratosphere could be applied to pyrocumulonimbus clouds triggered by nuclear detonations or stratospheric geoengineering concepts. 

“We have a better understanding of how our models represent smoke,” said co-author Ru-Shan Gao, a NOAA scientist who is participating in FIREX-AQ, a massive NOAA- and NASA- led mission to investigate the chemistry of wildfire smoke. “And because we can model this process, we know we can model other aerosol-related processes in the atmosphere.” 

The work was funded in part by NOAA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the Open Philanthropy Project.

For more information, contact Karin Vergoth, CIRES Communications, at karin.vergoth@colorado.edu.

 

Previous Article New NOAA app brings earth and space animations to your phone
Next Article NOAA is developing underwater robots to map, measure toxicity of Great Lakes algal blooms
Print
10363

x

Popular Research News

Carbon dioxide peaks near 420 parts per million at Mauna Loa observatory

Carbon dioxide peaks near 420 parts per million at Mauna Loa observatory Read more

In May, NOAA's measurements at the Mauna Loa observatory averaged 419.13 parts per million. Scientists at Scripps calculated a monthly average of 418.92 ppm.  It's the highest level since accurate measurements began 63 years ago.

NOAA index tracks how greenhouse gas pollution amplified global warming in 2020

NOAA index tracks how greenhouse gas pollution amplified global warming in 2020 Read more

The annual analysis of samples collected by NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network provides an updated measure of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gas pollution.

Meet 5 NOAA buoys that help scientists understand our weather, climate and ocean health

Meet 5 NOAA buoys that help scientists understand our weather, climate and ocean health Read more

Keeping track of ocean health is critical for understanding climate change, weather patterns, and the health of important fisheries. But how do NOAA and partner scientists gather data on such a vast environment? 

NOAA, Boeing team up to test greenhouse gas-measuring technology

NOAA, Boeing team up to test greenhouse gas-measuring technology Read more

Scientists with NOAA's Global Monitoring Laboratory will evaluate the optimal placement of greenhouse-gas sampling inlets on a Boeing 737 flying testbed owned by Alaska Air during Boeing's 2021 ecoDemonstrator technology development program. 

NOAA initiatives among the first round of Ocean Decade endorsed actions

NOAA initiatives among the first round of Ocean Decade endorsed actions Read more

NOAA scientists and priorities are well reflected in several of the first Ocean Decade actions endorsed and announced this week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC).

Documents to download

RSS
«July 2021»
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
27282930123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031
1234567

OAR HEADQUARTERS

Phone: 301-713-2458
Address: 1315 East-West Highway Silver Spring, MD 20910

Stay Connected

ABOUT US

Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.

CONTACT US

Can't Find What You Need?
Send Feedback
Copyright 2018 by NOAA Terms Of Use Privacy Statement
Back To Top