Effects of crop residue burning on aerosol properties, plume characteristics, and long-range transport over northern India



Aerosol emissions from biomass burning are of specific interest over the globe due to their strong radiative impacts and climate implications. The present study examines the impact of paddy crop residue burning over northern India during the postmonsoon (October–November) season of 2012 on modification of aerosol properties, as well as the long-range transport of smoke plumes, altitude characteristics, and affected areas via the synergy of ground-based measurements and satellite observations. During this period, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) images show a thick smoke/hazy aerosol layer below 2–2.5 km in the atmosphere covering nearly the whole Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP). The air mass trajectories originating from the biomass-burning source region over Punjab at 500 m reveal a potential aerosol transport pathway along the Ganges valley from west to east, resulting in a strong aerosol optical depth (AOD) gradient. Sometimes, depending upon the wind direction and meteorological conditions, the plumes also influence central India, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal, thus contributing to Asian pollution outflow. The increased number of fire counts (Terra and Aqua MODIS data) is associated with severe aerosol-laden atmospheres (AOD500 nm > 1.0) over six IGP locations, high values of Ångström exponent (>1.2), high particulate mass 2.5 (PM2.5) concentrations (>100–150 µgm−3), and enhanced Ozone Monitoring Instrument Aerosol Index gradient (~2.5) and NO2 concentrations (~6 × 1015 mol/cm2), indicating the dominance of smoke aerosols from agricultural crop residue burning. The aerosol size distribution is shifted toward the fine-mode fraction, also exhibiting an increase in the radius of fine aerosols due to coagulation processes in a highly turbid environment. The spectral variation of the single-scattering albedo reveals enhanced dominance of moderately absorbing aerosols, while the aerosol properties, modification, and mixing atmospheric processes differentiate along the IGP sites depending on the distance from the aerosol source, urban influence, and local characteristics.