South American Biomass Burning Analysis (SAMBBA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences


Biomass burning aerosol (BBA) exerts a considerable impact on regional radiation budgets as it significantly perturbs the surface fluxes and atmospheric heating rates and its cloud nucleating (CCN) properties perturb cloud microphysics and hence affect cloud radiative properties, precipitation and cloud lifetime. It is likely that such large influences on heating rates and CCN will affect regional weather predictions in addition to climatic changes. It is increasingly recognised that biomass burning affects the biosphere but the magnitude of the effects need to quantified. However, BBA is a complex and poorly understood aerosol species because of the mixing of the black carbon with organic and inorganic species. Furthermore, emission rates are poorly quantified and difficult to represent in models.
It is now timely to address these challenges as both measurement methods and model capabilities have developed rapidly over the last few years and are now sufficiently advanced that the processes and properties of BBA can be sufficiently constrained by measurements; these can be used to challenge the new aerosol schemes used in numerical weather prediction (NWP) and climate models.
Amazonia is one of the most important biomass burning regions in the world, being significantly impacted by intense biomass burning during the dry season leading to highly turbid conditions, and is therefore a key environment for quantifying these processes and determining the influence of these interactions on the weather and climate of the region. Though previous large scale studies of BBA over Amazonia and its radiative impacts have been performed, these are now over a decade old and considerable scientific progress can be made towards addressing all of the above questions given the rapid advance of models and measurements in recent years. We are therefore proposing a major consortium programme, SAMBBA, a consortium of 7 university partners and the UK Met Office, which will deliver a suite of ground, aircraft and satellite measurements of Amazonian BBA and use this data to 1) improve our knowledge of BB emissions; 2) challenge and improve the latest aerosol process models; 3) challenge and improve satellite retrievals; 4) test predictions of aerosol influences on regional climate and weather over Amazonia and the surrounding regions made using the next generation of climate and NWP models with extensive prognostic aerosol schemes; and 5) assess the impact of .biomass burning on the Amazonian biosphere.
The main field experiment will take place during September 2012 and is based in Porto Velho, Brazil. At this time of year, widespread burning takes place across the region leading to highly turbid conditions. The UK large research aircraft (FAAM) will be used to sample aerosol chemical, physical and optical properties and gas phase precursor concentrations. Measurements of radiation will also be made using advanced radiometers on board the aircraft and satellite data will also be utilised.
The influences of biomass burning aerosols are highly significant at local, weather, seasonal, and climate temporal scales necessitating the use of a hierarchy of models to establish and test key processes and quantify impacts. We will challenge models carrying detailed process descriptions of biomass burning aerosols with the new, comprehensive observations being made during SAMBBA to evaluate model performance and to improve parameterisations. Numerical Weather Prediction and Climate model simulations with a range of complexity and spatial resolution will be used to investigate the ways in which absorbing aerosol may influence dynamics and climate on regional and wider scales. At the heart of the approach is the use of a new range of models that can investigate such interactions using coupled descriptions of aerosols and clouds to fully investigate feedbacks at spatial scales that are sufficiently well resolved to assess such processes.

Planned Impact

Regional climate variability and modification of regional weather, including precipitation, over a region as important as Amazonia is a highly significant social, political and scientific issue. The SAMBBA project will therefore have significant impact across a wide spectrum of stakeholders.

Who will benefit from this research?

Scientific community. This work will be of significant scientific interest nationally and internationally, in particular this work will benefit Brazilian science and mutual benefit will be derived between SAMBBA and the US Department of Energy GO-Amazon team.

Business. SAMBBA is a direct collaboration with several research groups in the Met Office and will have a direct feed through to future improvements in Numerical Weather Prediction and Climate modelling. INPE, the Brazilian Space agency is the organisation responsible for regional climate modelling and operation forecasting in Brazil. INPE are a partner in this proposal and will directly benefit from our research. The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) will also collaborate on SAMBBA and will benefit from the outcomes of the programme.

General public / media. There has been significant publicity in recent years on aerosols, clouds and climate and also on Amazonia, biomass burning and deforestation. However, there remains significant lack of knowledge surrounding these issues and clear information needs to be conveyed to the public.

Policymakers. Amazonia is a highly important ecosystem offering one of the largest carbon stores on the planet. This project will have a direct bearing on understanding the role of BB aerosol in regional climate change for policymaking purposes. Therefore, policymakers in government and scientific bodies (such as IPCC) will all be users of the project outcomes.

How will they benefit?
Scientific community. New ground based and airborne measurements over Amazonia will be important for the scientific community. Aerosol processes in models will be tested in an extremely important environment - Amazonia. New syntheses of aerosol-cloud interactions with weather and regional climate will be delivered over the region. Project results will be widely reported in publications, international conferences etc. Project results will feed into future IPCC assessments.

Policymakers. Project PIs have provided advice to the UK government, contributed to EU policy committees, as well as to IPCC and WMO panels and assessments. Many opportunities exist for SAMBBA scientists to raise awareness of the role of biomass burning aerosols over Amazonia. SAMBBA will inform the US DoE atmospheric science programme. In addition, project PDRAs will be encouraged to participate in the various 'science into policy' schemes that exist with the Royal Society and NERC.

Business. The UK Met Office is a key partner and beneficiary of SAMBBA science. New aerosol-cloud schemes in NWP and climate models will be tested for biomass burning aerosol. Improved BB emissions schemes resulting from SAMBBA will also be incorporated into the Met Office UM models and into the ECMWF operational model. INPE will obtain increased knowledge of air quality prediction over the region and will work with SAMBBA to obtain a better understanding of the vertical distribution of BB aerosol in the region.

General public / media. Our aim will be to raise awareness of the role of the BB Aerosols and improve scientific understanding surrounding aerosol-cloud-climate interactions. We will do this by media interviews and press releases during the project. Articles for popular science magazines will also be produced. A project website will be established along with a website aimed at presenting our science to schoolchildren. Through podcasts and other web technologies we will aim to reach a wide audience. Local events such as national science week and presentations to local schools enhance the outreach from this project.


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Description This project has delivered the most comprehensive set of biomass burning aerosol data collected over the Amazonia region.

Emissions of biomass burning aerosol are uncertain. Our measurements have shown that, as forest fires burn rather poorly, they emit substantial amounts of partially combusted organic matter and little black carbon, whereas agricultural fires in previously deforested regions burn very efficiently and so emit much larger proportions of black carbon and less organic matter. As black carbon is highly absorbing this can potentially change the fraction of solar radiation that is absorbed by the regional haze formed during the biomass burning season leading to an increased warming and hence stability of the atmosphere over the Amazon. As deforestation reduces and agricultural fires increase this shift may have a profound effect on the atmospheric dynamics and precipitation across the region.

Global models under-predict the atmospheric burden of biomass burning aerosol. This may be due to enhanced removal processes or it could be due to the emission of particles from fires being under-represented. The GLOMAP Global Model has been used to test a number of different biomass burning emissions inventories and compared the results against measured data. The analysis has shown that the emissions data bases that are derived at higher resolution using detailed satellite information are able to better reproduce measurements than standard emissions data bases used in global models. However, significant under-predictions are still observed, particularly above the surface in the atmospheric column which remain to be resolved.

Our paper in Nature Geoscience utilising satellite observations and global modelling of reductions in deforestation-related fire in Brazil over the past decade has improved air quality and human health (preventing approximately 400-1700 premature adult deaths annually across South America).

We have quantified how fires increase Amazon forest productivity by increasing diffuse radiation by 3.4-6.8% annually, resulting in a 1.4-2.8% increase in net primary production.
Exploitation Route Outreach through the barometer podcast at the University of Manchester has already featured the SAMBBA experiment. INPE - Brazilian Space Agency and agency concerned with delivering air quality forecasts in Brazil are a project partner and will exploit SAMBBA results.

The Met Office will use SAMBBA results to verify the response of their weather forecasting model to the inclusion of aerosol particles.

The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting is using SAMBBA results to deliver a plume rise model for biomass fires.

Our Nature Geoscience paper on air quality reductions caused by biomass burning fires garnered significant press attention, particularly in Brazil (including BBC Brazil) and was also discussed in relation to updated estimates of global mortality rates from air pollution.
Sectors Environment

Description Science relating to SAMBBA is being communicated to wider stakeholders through a number of avenues. Researchers from the University of Manchester and University of Sao Paulo were involved in an exhibition at the Science Museum in London in July. This included public sessions showcasing elements of SAMBBA, including participation in a special 'Lates' evening session alongside other exhibits relating to Brazil. More details here. A fixed, longer-term exhibit depicting the spread of biomass burning pollution across South America is also being shown. PI Hugh Coe attended the FAPESP week in London during September 2013 at the Royal Society, which was hosted by the Royal Society and the British Council. SAMBBA was presented as a major achievement as it represents a successful scientific collaboration between the UK and Brazil via the NERC-FAPESP relationship. PDRA William Morgan has written several blog articles on biomass burning aerosol, including references to SAMBBA on his blog (, which is hosted by the European Geosciences Union. Results from SAMBBA also featured on audio diaries produced by the Barometer Podcast during the AGU Fall Meeting (
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Brazilian partner for SAMBBA 
Organisation University of Sao Paulo
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Joint campaign
Collaborator Contribution Brazilian partner on SAMBBA, facilitated ground based and air operations
Impact Joint papers advice to Brazilian Government by project partner follow on funding via Manchester-FAPESP
Start Year 2012
Description Manchester Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Manchester Science Festival is a one week event in November each year. Throughout the week a number of stalls are open for the public to engage with a range of different areas of research through interactive demos and discussions with staff engaged in the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
Description NERC Into the Blue 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact NERC Into the Blue - a week long event at Manchester Airport showcasing the FAAM aircraft and a wide range of NERC science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PDRA Morgan is involved in an atmospheric science podcast (The Barometer which has covered various themes including air quality in NW Europe over the past year.

Monthly podcast hosted by Manchester atmospheric sciences PDRAs and students featuring a range of air quality, meteorology and climate issues. Has focussed on nighttime air quality in a recent cast
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012