Singapore Haze in June 2013: Consequences of Land-Use Change, Fires, and Anomalous Meteorology for Air Quality in Equatorial Asia
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 11:50 AM
Much of Equatorial Asia is currently undergoing extensive burning from agricultural fires and rapid land-use conversion to oil palm plantations, with substantial consequences for air quality and health. In June 2013, Singapore experienced severe smoke levels, with surface particulate matter concentrations greater than ten times average. Unlike past haze events in Singapore (e.g. September 1997 and October 2006), the June 2013 pollution event occurred during El Nino-neutral conditions. Using a combination of observations and chemical transport modeling, we examine relationships between sea surface temperatures, wind fields, fire patterns, and aerosol optical depth during the June 2013 haze event. We find reasonable agreement between satellite measurements of aerosol optical depth (AOD) from the MODIS and MISR instruments and in-situ measurements from the AERONET stations across Equatorial Asia for 2005-2010 (MODIS R2 = 0.39, bias = -1.6%; MISR R2 = 0.27, bias = -42%). However, AOD observations fail to capture the Singapore pollution event of June 2013. Simulations with the GEOS-Chem model suggest that anomalously high dust concentrations during June 2013 may have impaired the ability of MODIS to monitor the haze over Singapore. In contrast, we show that the OMI Aerosol Index can effectively capture these smoke events and may be used to monitor future haze episodes in Equatorial Asia. We find that the June 2013 haze in Singapore may be attributed to anomalously strong westerlies carrying smoke from Riau Province in Indonesia. These westerlies, 5 m s-1 faster than the 2005-2010 mean June winds, are consistent with the phase of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) crossing the Maritime Continent at that time. These westerlies may have been further enhanced by a negative phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), an east-west gradient in sea surface temperature anomalies across the Indian Ocean, with cold sea surface temperature anomalies (-3 C°) off the Arabian coast and warm anomalies (+2 C°) in the East. These conditions appear to provide an important meteorological pathway by which land-use change fires in Indonesia may affect the health of large populations. Our work suggests that this pathway should be taken into account in the development of strategies to curb fire-related air pollution and health effects in Indonesia.