Wildfire-driven thunderstorms cause a volcano-like stratospheric injection of smoke
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): David A. Peterson; James R. Campbell; Edward J. Hyer; Michael D. Fromm; George P. Kablick III; Joshua H. Cossuth; Matthew T. DeLand
Publication Year: 2018

Cataloging Information

  • aerosol particles
  • plumes
  • pyrocumulonimbus
  • residence time
  • smoke transport
  • stratospheric intrusions
  • thunderstorms
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: August 1, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 58364


Intense heating by wildfires can generate deep, smoke-infused thunderstorms, known as pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb), which can release a large quantity of smoke particles above jet aircraft cruising altitudes. Injections of pyroCb smoke into the lower stratosphere have gained increasing attention over the past 15 years due to the rapid proliferation of satellite remote sensing tools. Impacts from volcanic eruptions and other troposphere-to-stratosphere exchange processes on stratospheric radiative and chemical equilibrium are well recognized and monitored. However, the role of pyroCb smoke in the climate system has yet to be acknowledged. Here, we show that the mass of smoke aerosol particles injected into the lower stratosphere from five near-simultaneous intense pyroCbs occurring in western North America on 12 August 2017 was comparable to that of a moderate volcanic eruption, and an order of magnitude larger than previous benchmarks for extreme pyroCb activity. The resulting stratospheric plume encircled the Northern Hemisphere over several months. By characterizing this event, we conclude that pyroCb activity, considered as either large singular events, or a full fire season inventory, significantly perturb the lower stratosphere in a manner comparable with infrequent volcanic intrusions.

Online Link(s):
Peterson, David A.; Campbell, James R.; Hyer, Edward J.; Fromm, Michael D.; Kablick, George P., III; Cossuth, Joshua H.; DeLand, Matthew T. 2018. Wildfire-driven thunderstorms cause a volcano-like stratospheric injection of smoke. NPJ Climate and Atmospheric Science 1:30.