North African savanna fires and atmospheric carbon dioxide

Iacobellis, SF, Frouin R, Razafimpanilo H, Somerville RCJ, Piper SC.  1994.  North African savanna fires and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 99:8321-8334.

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chemistry, transport, tropics


The effect of north African savanna fires on atmospheric CO2 is investigated using a tracer transport model. The model uses winds from operational numerical weather prediction analyses and provides CO2 Concentrations as a function of space and time. After a spin-up period of several years, biomass-burning sources are added, and model experiments are run for an additional year, utilizing various estimates of CO2 sources. The various model experiments show that biomass burning in the north African savannas significantly affects CO2 concentrations in South America. The effect is more pronounced during the period from January through March, when biomass burning in South America is almost nonexistent. During this period, atmospheric CO2 concentrations in parts of South America typically may increase by 0.5 to 0.75 ppm at 970 mbar, the average pressure of the lowest model layer. These figures are above the probable uncertainty level, as model runs with biomass-burning sources estimated from independent studies using distinct data sets and techniques indicate. From May through September, when severe biomass burning occurs in South America, the effect of north African savanna fires over South America has become generally small at 970 mbar, but north of the equator it may be of the same magnitude or larger than the effect of South American fires. The CO2 concentration increase in the extreme northern and southern portions of South America, however, is mostly due to southern African fires, whose effect may be 2-3 times larger than the effect of South American fires at 970 mbar. Even in the central part of the continent, where local biomass-burning emissions are maximum, southern African fires contribute to at least 15% of the CO2 concentration increase at 970 mbar. At higher levels in the atmosphere, less CO2 emitted by north African savanna fires reaches South America, and at 100 mbar no significant amount of CO2 is transported across the Atlantic Ocean. The vertical structure of the CO2 concentration increase due to biomass burning differs substantially, depending on whether sources are local or remote. A prominent maximum Of CO2 concentration increase in the lower layers characterizes the effect of local sources, whereas a more homogenous profile of CO2 concentration increase characterizes the effect of remote sources. The results demonstrate the strong remote effects of African biomass burning which, owing to the general circulation of the atmosphere, are felt as far away as South America.