Trace gas and particle emissions from fires in large diameter and belowground biomass fuels

Isaac Bertschi, Robert J. Yokelson, Darold E. Ward, Ron E. Babbitt, Ronald A. Susott, Jon G. Goode, Wei Min Hao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


We adopt a working definition of residual smoldering combustion (RSC) as biomass combustion that produces emissions that are not lofted by strong fire-induced convection. RSC emissions can be produced for up to several weeks after the passage of a flame front and they are mostly unaffected by flames. Fuels prone to RSC include downed logs, duff, and organic soils. Limited observations in the tropics and the boreal forest suggest that RSC is a globally significant source of emissions to the troposphere. This source was previously uncharacterized. We measured the first emission factors (EF) for RSC in a series of laboratory fires and in a wooded savanna in Zambia, Africa. We report EFRSC for both particles with diameter <2.5 μm (PM2.5) and the major trace gases as measured by open-path Fourier transform infrared (OP-FTIR) spectroscopy. The major trace gases include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, ethane, ethene, acetylene, propene, formaldehyde, methanol, acetic acid, formic acid, glycolaldehyde, phenol, furan, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide. We show that a model used to predict trace gas EF for fires in a wide variety of aboveground fine fuels fails to predict EF for RSC. For many compounds, our EF for RSC-prone fuels from the boreal forest and wooded savanna are very different from the EF for the same compounds measured in fire convection columns above these ecosystems. We couple our newly measured EFRSC with estimates of fuel consumption by RSC to refine emission estimates for fires in the boreal forest and wooded savanna. We find some large changes in estimates of biomass fire emissions with the inclusion of RSC. For instance, the wooded savanna methane EF increases by a factor of 2.5 even when RSC accounts for only 10% of fuel consumption. This shows that many more measurements of fuel consumption and EF for RSC are needed to improve estimates of biomass burning emissions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)SAF 8-1 - SAF 8-12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2003


  • Ammonia
  • Biomass burning
  • Methanol
  • Oxygenated organic compounds
  • Smoke
  • Smoldering combustion


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