Seasonal variations in fire conditions are important drivers in the trend of aerosol optical properties over the south-eastern Atlantic

Haochi Che*, Michal Segal-Rozenhaimer, Lu Zhang, Caroline Dang, Paquita Zuidema, Arthur J. Sedlacek, Xiaoye Zhang, Connor Flynn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


From June to October, southern Africa produces one-Third of the global biomass burning (BB) emissions by widespread fires. BB aerosols are transported westward over the south-eastern Atlantic with the midtropospheric winds, resulting in significant radiative effects. Ascension Island (ASI) is located midway between Africa and South America. From June 2016 to October 2017, a 17-month in situ observation campaign on ASI found a low single-scattering albedo (SSA) as well as a high mass absorption cross-section of black carbon (MACBC), demonstrating the strong absorbing marine boundary layer in the south-eastern Atlantic. Here we investigate the monthly variations of critical optical properties of BB aerosols, i.e. SSA and MACBC, during the BB seasons and the driving factors behind these variations. Both SSA and MACBC increase from June to August and decrease in September and October. The average SSA during the BB seasons is 0.81 at 529 nm wavelength, with the highest mean ∼ 0.85 in October and the lowest ∼ 0.78 in August. The absorption enhancement (Eabs) derived from the MACBC shows similar trends with SSA, with the average during the whole of the BB seasons at ∼ 1.96 and ∼ 2.07 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. As the Eabs is higher than the ∼ 1.5 commonly adopted value by climate models, this result suggests the marine boundary layer in the south-eastern Atlantic is more absorbing than model simulations. We find the enhanced ratio of BC to CO (ΔBC/ΔCO, equal to BC/ΔCO as the BC background concentration is considered to be 0) is well correlated with SSA and MACBC, providing a simple way to estimate the aerosol optical characteristics in the south-eastern Atlantic. The exponential function we proposed can approximate SSA and MACBC with BC/ΔCO, and when BC/ΔCO is small it can capture the rapid growth of SSA as BC/ΔCO decreases. BC/ΔCO is influenced by combustion conditions and aerosol scavenging. From the analysis of the location of BB, the primary source fuel, the water content in the fuel, combined with the mean cloud cover and precipitation in the transport areas of the BB plume, we conclude that the increase in BC/ΔCO from June to August is likely to be caused by burning becoming more flaming. The reduction in the water content of fuels may be responsible for the change in the burning conditions from June to August. The decrease in BC/ΔCO in September and October may be caused by two factors, one being a lower proportion of flaming conditions, possibly associated with a decrease in mean surface wind speed in the burning area, and the other being an increase in precipitation in the BB transport pathway, leading to enhanced aerosol scavenging, which ultimately results in an increase in SSA and MACBC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8767-8785
Number of pages19
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number13
StatePublished - 7 Jul 2022


FundersFunder number
U.S. Department of EnergyDE-SC0020084
U.S. Department of Energy


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