Biomass Burning Observation Project (BBOP)

Plants, trees, grass, brush, and moss are all consumed as fuel in the tempest of the many fires that dot the United States every year. While many studies on the plumes of such fires have been done in tropical climates (e.g., Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa), relatively few studies have been conducted in the United States. Each year, acres of biomass burned across the country produce soot and a kaleidoscope of chemical aerosols that have an impact on climate.

To better understand how these aerosols affect Earth's atmosphere and climate, scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory will use the Department of Energy's (DOE) ARM Aerial Facility to send a research aircraft into the smoke-filled skies from June through October 2013. Their study, titled Biomass Burning Observation Project (BBOP), will investigate six primary topics:

  1. Aerosol mixing state and morphology (structure and form of mixed aerosols)
  2. Mass absorption coefficients
  3. Chemical composition of non-refractory material associate with light-absorbing carbon (LAC)
  4. Production rate of secondary organic aerosol
  5. Microphysical processes relevant to determining aerosol size distributions and single-scattering albedo (SSA)
  6. CCN activity.

Flying into miles-long plumes of smoke during an active burn will allow scientists to "age" the fires based on the aerosols produced. The "near field" readings are the best source of new information on the evolution of the biomass burning aerosols relative to the more widely tested tropical fires. Learning more about the biomass burning aerosols produced in the United States will help identify the impact of agricultural and wildfires on regional and global climate models.

The first phase of the campaign, based out of Pasco, Washington, will sample wildfires in the Western United States. The final four weeks of the campaign will investigate agricultural burns in the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee.