Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia, has periodically struggled with intense fire events. These events convert substantial amounts of carbon stored as peat to atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and significantly affect atmospheric composition on a regional to global scale. During the recent 2015 El Niño event, peat fires led to strong enhancements of carbon monoxide (CO), an air pollutant and well-known tracer for biomass burning. These enhancements were clearly observed from space by the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) and the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instruments. We use these satellite observations to estimate CO fire emissions within an inverse modelling framework. We find that the derived CO emissions for each sub-region of Indonesia and Papua are substantially different from emission inventories, highlighting uncertainties in bottom-up estimates. CO fire emissions based on either MOPITT or IASI have a similar spatial pattern and evolution in time, and a 10% uncertainty based on a set of sensitivity tests we performed. Thus, CO satellite data have a high potential to complement existing operational fire emission estimates based on satellite observations of fire counts, fire radiative power and burned area, in better constraining fire occurrence and the associated conversion of peat carbon to atmospheric CO2 A total carbon release to the atmosphere of 0.35-0.60 Pg C can be estimated based on our results.This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño on the terrestrial tropical carbon cycle: patterns, mechanisms and implications'.
Keywords: atmosphere; biomass burning; emissions; peat; satellite data.
© 2018 The Authors.