Articles | Volume 8, issue 6
Research article
27 Jun 2011
Research article |  | 27 Jun 2011

Mega fire emissions in Siberia: potential supply of bioavailable iron from forests to the ocean

A. Ito

Abstract. Significant amounts of carbon and nutrients are released to the atmosphere due to large fires in forests. Characterization of the spatial distribution and temporal variation of the intense fire emissions is crucial for assessing the atmospheric loadings of trace gases and aerosols. This paper discusses issues of the representation of forest fires in the estimation of emissions and the application to an atmospheric chemistry transport model (CTM). The potential contribution of forest fires to the deposition of bioavailable iron (Fe) into the ocean is highlighted, with a focus on mega fires in eastern Siberia.

Satellite products of burned area, active fire, and land cover are used to estimate biomass burning emissions in conjunction with a biogeochemical model. Satellite-derived plume height from MISR is used for the injection height of boreal forest fire emissions. This methodology is applied to quantify fire emission rates in each three-dimensional grid location in the high latitude Northern Hemisphere (>30° N latitude) over a 5-yr period from 2001 to 2005. There is large interannual variation in forest burned area during 2001–2005 (13–49 × 103 km2 yr−1) which results in a corresponding variation in the annual emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) (14–81 Tg CO y−1). Satellite observations of CO column from MOPITT are used to evaluate the model performance in simulating the spatial distribution and temporal variation of the fire emissions. The model results for CO enhancements due to eastern Siberian fires are in good agreement with MOPITT observations. These validation results suggest that the model using emission rates estimated in this work is able to describe the interannual changes in CO due to intense forest fires.

Bioavailable iron is derived from atmospheric processing of relatively insoluble iron from desert sources by anthropogenic pollutants (mainly sulfuric acid formed from oxidation of SO2) and from direct emissions of soluble iron from combustion sources. Emission scenarios for IPCC AR5 report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Fifth Assessment Report) suggest that anthropogenic SO2 emissions are suppressed in the future to improve air quality. In future warmer and drier climate, severe fire years such as 2003 may become more frequent in boreal regions. The fire emission rates estimated in this study are applied to the aerosol chemistry transport model to examine the relative importance of biomass burning sources of soluble iron compared to those from dust sources. The model reveals that extreme fire events contribute to a significant deposition of soluble iron (20–40 %) to downwind regions over the western North Pacific Ocean, compared to the dust sources with no atmospheric processing by acidic species. These results suggest that the supply of nutrients from large forest fires plays a role as a negative biosphere-climate feedback with regards to the ocean fertilization.

Final-revised paper