GlobAerBiom – Global biomass-burning aerosols and their aging processes: Insights from the modern era satellites

Biomass burning has major impacts on health, climate and society globally. Using satellite data, researchers will now investigate how aerosols from forest and agricultural fires are dispersed and aged in the atmosphere.

Biomass burning episodes can be natural (e.g. forest fires) or anthropogenic (e.g. agricultural fires) in nature. The properties of aerosol emissions from biomass-burning events and their aging depend on many factors such as the type of biomass burnt, the nature of the burning, and prevailing meteorological conditions.

The current estimates of the global direct radiative forcing of biomass-burning aerosols range contradictorily from net cooling to net warming across climate models. This high uncertainty in the estimates is an indication of how little we still know about biomass-burning aerosols and the processes that control their aging. The strong heterogeneity in their properties and various underlying atmospheric processes complicate their global assessment and call for studies to evaluate the capabilities of the modern-era satellites to provide additional insights.

Project plan

Here, the researchers will use 15 years of global satellite observations of biomass burning events (2006-2020) and associated aerosols to characterize the changes in their properties as they age when transported over longer distances away from the sources.

A Lagrangian framework will be made use of to trace the spread of aerosol plumes from the global burning hotspots and collocate their transport pathways with satellite sensor data. The focus will be on using the modern era satellite sensors, such as active lidar in space, whose potential is heavily underexploited in such studies.

The researchers will characterize the properties of aged biomass-burning aerosols and their sensitivity to different types of burning (smoldering vs flaming) and this will be evaluated under different meteorological conditions. Such a global Lagrangian analysis using modern-era satellite data has not been done before.

The aim is also to provide a statistical multivariate database linking aging to different conditions, which could be used for model evaluations. The researchers will further examine the prospective benefits of the next-generation lidar onboard ESA's EarthCARE spacecraft for studying biomass-burning aerosols.

Project period

January 1, 2024 – December 31, 2026

Project leader

Manu Thomas

Project partners

All participants are from SMHI


Swedish National Space Agency