Self-lofting of wildfire smoke in the troposphere and stratosphere: simulations and space lidar observations

Kevin Ohneiser, Albert Ansmann, Jonas Witthuhn, Hartwig Deneke, Alexandra Chudnovsky, Gregor Walter, Fabian Senf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildfire smoke is known as a highly absorptive aerosol type in the shortwave wavelength range. The absorption of sunlight by optically thick smoke layers results in heating of the ambient air. This heating is translated into self-lofting of the smoke up to more than 1gkm in altitude per day. This study aims for a detailed analysis of tropospheric and stratospheric smoke lofting rates based on simulations and observations. The main goal is to demonstrate that radiative heating of intense smoke plumes is capable of lofting them from the lower and middle free troposphere (injection heights) up to the tropopause without the need of pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) convection. The further subsequent ascent within the lower stratosphere (caused by self-lofting) is already well documented in the literature. Simulations of absorbed solar radiation by smoke particles and resulting heating rates, which are then converted into lofting rates, are conducted by using the ECRAD (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Radiation) scheme. As input parameters thermodynamic profiles from CAMS (Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service) reanalysis data, aerosol profiles from ground-based lidar observations, radiosonde potential temperature profiles, CALIOP (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization) aerosol measurements, and MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) aerosol optical depth retrievals were used. The sensitivity analysis revealed that the lofting rate strongly depends on aerosol optical thickness (AOT), layer depth, layer height, and black carbon (BC) fraction. We also looked at the influence of different meteorological parameters such as cloudiness, relative humidity, and potential temperature gradient. To demonstrate the applicability of our self-lofting model, we compared our simulations with the lofting processes in the stratosphere observed with CALIOP after major pyroCb events (Canadian fires in 2017, Australian fires in 2019-2020). We analyzed long-term CALIOP observations of smoke layers and plumes evolving in the UTLS (upper troposphere and lower stratosphere) height region over Siberia and the adjacent Arctic Ocean during the summer season of 2019. Our results indicate that self-lofting contributed to the vertical transport of smoke. We hypothesize that the formation of a near-tropopause aerosol layer, observed with CALIOP, was the result of self-lofting processes because this is in line with the simulations. Furthermore, Raman-lidar-based aerosol typing (in Leipzig and the High Arctic) clearly indicated the dominance of smoke in the UTLS aerosol layer since August 2019, most probably also the result of smoke self-lofting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2901-2925
Number of pages25
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 3 Mar 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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