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Radiative impacts of the Australian bushfires 2019-2020 - Part 1: Large-scale radiative forcing

Abstract : As a consequence of extreme heat and drought, record-breaking wildfires developed and ravaged south-eastern Australia during the fire season 2019-2020. The fire strength reached its paroxysmal phase at the turn of the year 2019-2020. During this phase, pyrocumulonimbus clouds (pyroCb) developed and injected biomass burning aerosols and gases into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS). The UTLS aerosol layer was massively perturbed by these fires, with aerosol extinction increased by a factor of 3 in the visible spectral range in the Southern Hemisphere, with respect to a background atmosphere, and stratospheric aerosol optical depth reaching values as large as 0.015 in February 2020. Using the best available description of this event by observations, we estimate the radiative forcing (RF) of such perturbations of the Southern Hemispheric aerosol layer. We use offline radiative transfer modelling driven by observed information of the aerosol extinction perturbation and its spectral variability obtained from limb satellite measurements. Based on hypotheses on the absorptivity and the angular scattering properties of the aerosol layer, the regional (at three latitude bands in the Southern Hemisphere) clear-sky TOA (top-of-atmosphere) RF is found varying from small positive values to relatively large negative values (up to -2.0 W m-2), and the regional clear-sky surface RF is found to be consistently negative and reaching large values (up to -4.5 W m-2). We argue that clear-sky positive values are unlikely for this event, if the ageing/mixing of the biomass burning plume is mirrored by the evolution of its optical properties. Our best estimate for the area-weighted global-equivalent clear-sky RF is -0.35±0.21 (TOA RF) and -0.94±0.26 W m-2 (surface RF), thus the strongest documented for a fire event and of comparable magnitude with the strongest volcanic eruptions of the post-Pinatubo era. The surplus of RF at the surface, with respect to TOA, is due to absorption within the plume that has contributed to the generation of ascending smoke vortices in the stratosphere. Highly reflective underlying surfaces, like clouds, can nevertheless swap negative to positive TOA RF, with global average RF as high as +1.0 W m-2 assuming highly absorbing particles.
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Submitted on : Friday, November 4, 2022 - 12:22:09 PM
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Pasquale Sellitto, Redha Belhadji, Corinna Kloss, Bernard Legras. Radiative impacts of the Australian bushfires 2019-2020 - Part 1: Large-scale radiative forcing. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2022, 22, pp.9299-9311. ⟨10.5194/acp-22-9299-2022⟩. ⟨insu-03839373⟩



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