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.
- Biomass burning
- Direct aerosol radiative forcing