Direct radiative forcing of biomass burning aerosols from the extensive Australian wildfires in 2019-2020

Dong Yeong Chang, Jongmin Yoon, Johannes Lelieveld, Seon Ki Park, Seong Soo Yum, Jhoon Kim, Sujong Jeong

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21 Scopus citations


In 2019, an unusually strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole spawned hot and dry weather in southeastern Australia, which promoted devastating wildfires in the period from September 2019 to February 2020. The fires produced large plumes of biomass burning aerosols that prevented sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface, and in this way elicited regional radiative cooling. We estimated the direct aerosol radiative forcing (ARF) resulting from these wildfires, based on Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer space-based data and an empirical relationship from AErosol RObotic NETwork ground-based data collected in biomass-burning regions. The wildfire-derived air pollution was associated with an aerosol optical thickness of >0.3 in Victoria and a strongly negative ARF of between -14.8 and -17.7 W m-2, which decreased the surface air temperature by about 3.7 °C-4.4 °C. This is of the same order of magnitude as the radiative cooling from volcanic eruptions. Although the atmospheric lifetime of biomass-burning aerosols is relatively short (about a week), the Australian wildfire pollution plumes extended across the Pacific Ocean to South America. Since climate change is expected to lead to more frequent and increasingly intense fires in many regions worldwide, the consequent biomass burning aerosols may become a significant radiative forcing factor, which will need to be accounted for in climate model projections for the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044041
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea, the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2019R1I1A1A01063751), and the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER), funded by the Ministry of Environment (MOE) of the Republic of Korea (NIER-2021-01- 01-052). We acknowledge the use of data from the Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) system operated by NASA's Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) with funding provided by NASA Headquarters.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • Australia
  • Biomass burning
  • Direct aerosol radiative forcing
  • Wildfires


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