During the NASA Global Troposphere Experiment Pacific Exploratory Mission-Tropics (PEM-Tropics) airborne sampling campaign we found unexpectedly high concentrations of aerosol-associated 210Pb throughout the free troposphere over the South Pacific. Because of the remoteness of the study region, we expected specific activities to be generally less than 35 μBq m−3 but found an average in the free troposphere of 107 μBq m−3. This average was elevated by a large number of very active (up to 405 μBq m−3) samples that were associated with biomass burning plumes encountered on nearly every PEM-Tropics flight in the southern hemisphere. We use a simple aging and dilution model, which assumes that 222Rn and primary combustion products are pumped into the free troposphere in wet convective systems over fire regions (most likely in Africa), to explain the elevated 210Pb activities. This model reproduces the observed 210Pb activities very well, and predicts the ratios of four hydrocarbon species (emitted by combustion) to CO to better than 20% in most cases. Plume ages calculated by the model depend strongly on the assumed 222Rn activities in the initial plume, but using values plausible for continental boundary layer air yields ages that are consistent with travel times from Africa to the South Pacific calculated with a back trajectory model. The model also shows that despite being easily recognized through the large enhancements of biomass burning tracers, these plumes must have entrained large fractions of the surrounding ambient air during transport.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres



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Copyright 1999 by the American Geophysical Union.