Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Pan-Arctic enhancements of light absorbing aerosol concentrations due to North American boreal forest fires during summer 2004

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Abstract

[1] During summer of 2004, about 2.7 million hectare of boreal forest burned in Alaska, the largest annual area burned on record, and another 3.1 million hectare burned in Canada. This study explores the impact of emissions from these fires on light absorbing aerosol concentration levels, aerosol optical depths (AOD), and albedo at the Arctic stations Barrow (Alaska), Alert (Canada), Summit (Greenland), and Zeppelin/Ny Ålesund on Spitsbergen (Norway). The Lagrangian particle dispersion model FLEXPART was run backward from these sites to identify periods that were influenced by forest fire pollution plumes. It is shown that the fires led to enhanced values of particle light absorption coefficients (σap) at all of these sites. Barrow, about 1000 km away from the fires, was affected by several fire pollution plumes, one leading to spectacularly high 3-hour mean σap values of up to 32 Mm−1, more than the highest values measured in Arctic Haze. AOD measurements for a wavelength of 500 nm saturated but were estimated at above 4–5 units, unprecedented in the station records. Fire plumes were transported through the atmospheric column over Summit continuously for 2 months, during which all measured AOD values were enhanced, with maxima up to 0.4–0.5 units. Equivalent black carbon concentrations at the surface at Summit were up to 600 ng m−3 during two major episodes, and Alert saw at least one event with enhanced σap values. FLEXPART results show that Zeppelin was located in a relatively unaffected part of the Arctic. Nevertheless, there was a 4-day period with daily mean σap > 0.3 Mm−1, the strongest episode of the summer half year, and enhanced AOD values. Elevated concentrations of the highly source-specific compound levoglucosan positively confirmed that biomass burning was the source of the aerosols at Zeppelin. In summary, this paper shows that boreal forest fires can lead to elevated concentrations of light absorbing aerosols throughout the entire Arctic. Enhanced AOD values suggest a substantial impact of these plumes on radiation transmission in the Arctic atmosphere. During the passage of the largest fire plume, a pronounced drop of the albedo of the snow was observed at Summit. We suggest that this is due to the deposition of light absorbing particles on the snow, with further potentially important consequences for the Arctic radiation budget.

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