Effects of biomass-burning-derived aerosols on precipitation and clouds in the Amazon Basin: a satellite-based empirical study

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Abstract

[1] Biomass burning in the Amazon provides strong input of aerosols into the atmosphere, with potential effects on precipitation, cloud properties, and radiative balance. However, few studies to date have systematically examined these effects at the scale of the Amazon Basin, over an entire burning season, using available data sets. We empirically study the relationships of aerosol optical depth (τa) versus rainfall and cloud properties measured from satellites over the entire Brazilian Amazon during the dry, biomass burning seasons (August–October) of 2000 and 2003. Elevated τa was associated with increased rainfall in both 2000 and 2003. With enhanced τa, cloud cover increased significantly, and cloud top temperature/pressure decreased, suggesting higher cloud tops. The cloud droplet effective radius (Re) exhibited minimal growth with cloud height under background levels of τa, while distinct increases in Re at cloud top temperatures below −10°C, indicative of ice formation, were observed with aerosol loading. Although empirical correlations do not unequivocally establish the causal link from aerosols, these results are consistent with previous observational and modeling studies that pointed to dynamical effects from aerosols that invigorate convection, leading to higher clouds, enhanced cloud cover, and stronger rainfall. We speculate that changes in precipitation and cloud properties associated with aerosol loading observed in this study could have important radiative and hydrological effects on the Amazonian climate system. The accelerated forest burning for agricultural land clearing and the resulting enhancements in aerosols and rainfall may even partially account for the observed positive trend in Amazonian precipitation over the past several decades.

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