Charcoal Whirlwinds and Post-Fire Observations in Serengeti National Park Savannahs

Colin John Courtney-Mustaphi, Heleen C Vos, Rob Marchant, Colin Michael Beale

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Whirlwinds and visible dust devils occur over semi-arid ecosystems and entrain particles from the ground surface. Fires produce abundant charcoal across savannahs and the resulting blackened surfaces create a large albedo contrast. Whirlwinds have been observed associated with active fires; yet, there are few published observations on post-fire landscapes. Spatiotemporal patterns of whirlwinds have been documented for a limited number of regions and have not been made for the ecosystems of eastern Africa. From field-based sightings in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, we report on whirlwinds over burned savannah patches that entrained large quantities of charcoal to produce black coloured charcoal devils that lofted charcoal into the atmosphere. Two occurrences of charcoal devils were sighted and photographed, one each in the Western Corridor (Bunda District) and Lamai (Serengeti District), Mara Region. The observations were compared with regional scale meteorological data and remote sensing satellite imagery and albedo estimates of the land cover conditions. Although direct meteorological or particulate matter measurements were not made, the observations show that both charcoal devils differed in colour, funnel shape, height, and savannah land cover types (different woody to grass fuel canopies), and thus different charcoal morphologies. Charcoal laden whirlwinds require further study and characterization to analyse the contribution to local-scale redistribution of matter and regional-to-global fluxes of terrestrially derived atmospheric particulates. Future research focusing on the spatiotemporal patterns of whirlwinds over burned patches of savannah, the formation, duration and dissipation mechanisms, and characterisation of the entrained material would contribute to our understanding of the phenomena. The redistribution of organic and clastic material would contribute to understanding of detrital fluxes to depositional environments, such as lakes, wetlands, and snow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-473
Number of pages14
JournalTanzania Journal of Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2022


  • Atmospheric boundary layer
  • Convection
  • Detritus
  • Dust devils
  • Fires
  • Particulate matter

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