Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Impacts of biomass burning on tropospheric CO, NO x , and O3


  • Meredith Galanter,

  • Hiram Levy II,

  • Gregory R. Carmichael


This study utilizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory three-dimensional global chemical transport model to quantify the impacts of biomass burning on tropospheric concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and ozone (O3). We construct updated global sources that emit 748 Tg CO/yr and 7.8 Tg N/yr in the surface layer. Both sources include six types of biomass: forest, savanna, fuelwood, agricultural residues, domestic crop residues (burned in the home for cooking and/or heating), and dried animal waste. Timing for the burning of forest, savanna, and agricultural residues is based upon regional cultural use of fire, vegetation type, local climate, and information gathered from satellite observations, while emissions from the burning of fuelwood, domestic crop residues, and dried animal waste are constant throughout the year. Based on agreement with observations, particularly of CO, we conclude that the collective uncertainty in our biomass burning sources is much less than the factor of two suggested by previous estimates of biomass burned in the tropics annually. Overall, biomass burning is a major source of CO and NOx in the northern high latitudes during the summer and fall and in the tropics throughout most of the year. While it contributes more than 50% of both the NOx and CO in the boundary layer over major source regions, it has a much larger global impact on the CO distribution in comparison to either NOx or O3, contributing 15 to 30% of the entire tropospheric CO background. The only significant biomass burning contribution to NOx at 500 mbar, due to the short lifetime of NOx in the lower troposphere, is a plume occurring July through October in the Southern Hemisphere subtropical free troposphere, stretching from South America to the western Pacific. The largest impacts on O3 are limited to those regions where NOx impacts are large as well. Near the surface, biomass burning indirectly contributes less than half of the total O3 concentrations over major tropical source regions, up to 15% throughout the year in the tropics, and 10 to 20% throughout the Southern Hemisphere during September through November. At 500 mbar, the largest contribution to O3 (20–30%) is correlated with the NOx plume during July through November. Biomass burning contributes less than 15% of either NOx or O3 in the upper troposphere.