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Journal Articles Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Year : 2010

The untold story of pyrocumulonimbus

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Abstract

Pyrocumulonimbus storms inject smoke into the stratosphere. “PyroCb” smoke has been mistaken for volcanic clouds. In one year there were at least 17 pyroCb events observed in the USA and Canada. Wildfire is becoming the focus of increasing attention. It is now realized that changes in the occurrence frequency and intensity of wildfires has important consequence for a variety of important problems including atmospheric change and safety in the urban-wildland interface. One important but poorly understood aspect of wildfire behavior—pyrocumulonimbus firestorm dynamics and atmospheric impact—has a curious history of theory and observation. The “pyroCb” is a fire-started or –augmented thunderstorm that in its most extreme manifestation injects huge abundances of smoke and other biomass burning emissions into the lower stratosphere. The observed hemispheric spread of smoke and other biomass burning emissions could have important climate consequences. Pyrocbs have been spawned naturally and through anthropogenesis, and hypothesized as part of the theoretical Nuclear Winter work. However, direct attribution of the stratospheric aerosols to the pyroCb only occurred in the last decade. Such an extreme injection by thunderstorms was previously judged to be unlikely because the extratopical tropopause is considered to be a strong barrier to convection. Two recurring themes have developed as pyroCb research unfolds. First, some “mystery layer” events—puzzling stratospheric aerosol-layer observations—and other layers reported as volcanic aerosol, can now be explained in terms of pyroconvection. Secondly, pyroCb events occur surprisingly frequently, and they are likely a relevant aspect of several historic wildfires. Here we show that pyroCbs offer a plausible alternate explanation for phenomena that were previously assumed to involve volcanic aerosols in 1989–1991. In addition, we survey the Canada/USA fire season of 2002 and identify 17 pyroCbs, some of which are associated with newsworthy fires such as Hayman, Rodeo/Chediski, and Biscuit fires. Some of these pyroCbs injected smoke into the lowermost stratosphere.
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hal-00475856 , version 1 (16-12-2020)

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Michael Fromm, Daniel T. Lindsey, René Servranckx, Glenn Yue, Thomas Trickl, et al.. The untold story of pyrocumulonimbus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 2010, 91 (9), pp.1193-1209. ⟨10.1175/2010BAMS3004.1⟩. ⟨hal-00475856⟩
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