Five-satellite-sensor study of the rapid decline of wildfire smoke in the stratosphere

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Smoke from western North American wildfires reached the stratosphere in large amounts in August 2017. Limb-oriented satellite-based sensors are commonly used for studies of wildfire aerosol injected into the stratosphere (OMPS-LP (Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite Limb Profiler) and SAGE III/ISS (Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III on the International Space Station)). We find that these methods are inadequate for studies of the first 1-2 months after such a strong fire event due to event termination ("saturation"). The nadir-viewing lidar CALIOP (Cloud-Aerosol LIdar with Orthogonal Polarization) is less affected due to shorter path in the smoke; furthermore, it provides a means to develop a method to correct for strong attenuation of the signal. After the initial phase, the aerosol optical depth (AOD) from OMPS-LP and CALIOP show very good agreement above the 380ĝK isentrope, whereas OMPS-LP tends to produce higher AOD than CALIOP in the lowermost stratosphere (LMS), probably due to reduced sensitivity at altitudes below 17ĝkm. Time series from CALIOP of attenuation-corrected stratospheric AOD of wildfire smoke show an exponential decline during the first month after the fire, which coincides with highly significant changes in the wildfire aerosol optical properties. The AOD decline is verified by the evolution of the smoke layer composition, comparing the aerosol scattering ratio (CALIOP) to the water vapor concentration from MLS (Microwave Limb Sounder). Initially the stratospheric wildfire smoke AOD is comparable with the most important volcanic eruptions during the last 25 years. Wildfire aerosol declines much faster, 80ĝ%-90ĝ% of the AOD is removed with a half-life of approximately 10ĝd. We hypothesize that this dramatic decline is caused by photolytic loss. This process is rarely observed in the atmosphere. However, in the stratosphere this process can be studied with practically no influence from wet deposition, in contrast to the troposphere where this is the main removal path of submicron aerosol particles. Despite the loss, the aerosol particles from wildfire smoke in the stratosphere are relevant for the climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3967-3984
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Mar 28

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences


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