Airborne observations of trace gases over boreal Canada during BORTAS: campaign climatology, air mass analysis and enhancement ratios

S. J. O'Shea, G. Allen, M. W. Gallagher, S.J.-B. Bauguitte, S. M. Illingsworth, M. Le Breton, J. B. A. Muller, C. J. Percival, A. T. Archibald, D. E. Oram, Mark Parrington, Paul Palmer, A. C. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In situ airborne measurements were made over eastern Canada in summer 2011 as part of the BORTAS experiment (Quantifying the impact of BOReal forest fires on Tropospheric oxidants over the Atlantic using Aircraft and Satellites). In this paper we present observations of greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) and other biomass burning tracers (CO, HCN and CH3CN), both climatologically and through case studies, as recorded on board the FAAM BAe-146 research aircraft.

Vertical profiles of CO2 were generally characterised by depleted boundary layer concentrations relative to the free troposphere, consistent with terrestrial biospheric uptake. In contrast, CH4 concentrations were found to rise with decreasing altitude due to strong local and regional surface sources. BORTAS observations were found to be broadly comparable with both previous measurements in the region during the regional burning season and with reanalysed composition fields from the EU Monitoring Atmospheric Composition and Change (MACC) project. We use coincident tracer–tracer correlations and a Lagrangian trajectory model to characterise and differentiate air mass history of intercepted plumes. In particular, CO, HCN and CH3CN were used to identify air masses that have been recently influenced by biomass burning.

Examining individual cases we were able to quantify emissions from biomass burning. Using both near-field (< 1 day) and far-field (> 1 day) sampling, boreal forest fire plumes were identified throughout the troposphere. Fresh plumes from fires in northwestern Ontario yield emission factors for CH4 and CO2 of 8.5 ± 0.9 g (kg dry matter)−1 and 1512 ± 185 g (kg dry matter)−1, respectively. We have also investigated the efficacy of calculating emission factors from far-field sampling, in which there might be expected to be limited mixing with background and other characteristic air masses, and we provide guidance on best practice and limitations in such analysis. We have found that for measurements within plumes that originated from fires in northwestern Ontario 2–4 days upwind, emission factors can be calculated that range between 1618 ± 216 and 1702 ± 173 g (kg dry matter)−1 for CO2 and 1.8 ± 0.2 and 6.1 ± 1 g (kg dry matter)−1 for CH4.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12451-12467
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2013


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