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Keywords:

  • aerosol;
  • crop waste open burning;
  • forest

[1] Climatological mean estimates of forest burning and crop waste burning based on broad assumptions of the amounts burned have so far been used for India in global inventories. Here we estimate open biomass burning representative of 1995–2000 from forests using burned area and biomass density specific for Indian ecosystems and crop waste burning as a balance between generation and known uses as fuel and fodder. High-resolution satellite data of active fires and land cover classification from MODIS, both on a scale of 1 km × 1 km, were used to capture the seasonal variability of forest and crop waste burning and in conjunction with field reporting. Correspondence in satellite-detected fire cycles with harvest season was used to identify types crop waste burned in different regions. The fire season in forest areas was from February to May, and that in croplands varied with geographical location, with peaks in April and October, corresponding to the two major harvest seasons. Spatial variability in amount of forest biomass burned differed from corresponding forest fire counts with biomass burned being largest in central India but fire frequency being highest in the east-northeast. Unutilized crop waste and MODIS cropland fires were predominant in the western Indo-Gangetic plain. However, the amounts of unutilized crop waste in the four regions were not strictly proportional to the fire counts. Fraction crop waste burned in fields ranged from 18 to 30% on an all-India basis and had a strong regional variation. Open burning contributes importantly (about 25%) to black carbon, organic matter, and carbon monoxide emissions, a smaller amount (9–13%) to PM2.5 (particulate mass in particles smaller than 2.5 micron diameter) and CO2 emissions, and negligibly to SO2 emissions (1%). However, it cannot explain a large “missing source” of BC or CO from India.