Understanding the effects of forest fires on air quality

Journal of Applied Remote Sensing (2022). DOI: 10.1117/1.JRS.16.034522″ width=”800″ height=”450″/>

(a) The distribution of the ΔO3/ΔCO ratio along the longitude within the wildfire plume and (b) the estimated longitudinal age distribution of the CO plume based on the NAST-I measurements. Credit: Daniel K. Zhou et al, Journal of Applied Remote Sensing (2022). DOI: 10.1117/1.JRS.16.034522

Wildfires, characterized by unplanned, uncontrolled and unpredictable fires that erupt in areas such as forests, grasslands and prairies, have recently increased in frequency and intensity. Probably due to the effects of climate change, wildfires are increasingly affecting ecosystems and human lives. Although wildfires are considered to be ecologically beneficial, there are growing concerns about the negative effects, which are the deterioration of air quality from the smoke and pollutants released.

In particular carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3) contribute significantly to air pollution caused by forest fires. However, unlike CO, O3 is not directly generated during wildfires. Instead, it is produced from O3 precursors emitted during forest fires and their production depends on several factors. This in turn complicates the O3 production process. In addition, its presence in wildfire plumes determines the age of the wildfire plume. Assessing concentrations is therefore necessary to better understand how wildfires affect air quality, weather and climate.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Remote SensingScientists at NASA Langley Research Center, in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reported their findings in the Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) field campaigns. measurements of atmospheric CO and O3 levels were performed over the continental US using an external sensor called “National Airborne Sounder Testbed-Interferometer” (NAST-I), which provided both high spatial and spectral resolution.

“The NAST-I, aboard the NASA ER-2 aircraft, occupies a space large enough to track the wildfire plume from its origin, evolution and transport, and provides 3D distributions of the O3 and CO concentrations with higher spatial resolution compared to satellite infrared ultraspectral sensors,” said Dr. Daniel K. Zhou, the principal investigator of NAST-I and the lead author of the study.

Based on these measurements, the team estimated the age of the plume through the differential concentration ratios of O. to observe3 and CO, that is, ΔO3/ΔCO and performing a linear fit with previous wildfire observations ΔO3/ΔCO ratios. “Our results showed elevated levels of CO in the developing plume as it was transported away from the fire site. The age of the plume was associated with the plume spacing in both vertical and horizontal directions,” Zhou said.

Overall, this study provides important insights that could be crucial for a better understanding of the effects of wildfires on the atmosphere and the steps needed to reduce them.


Smoke plumes from western forest fires are getting bigger


More information:
Daniel K. Zhou et al, Fire-induced CO plume age estimate of NAST–I during the FIREX-AQ field campaign, Journal of Applied Remote Sensing (2022). DOI: 10.1117/1.JRS.16.034522

Quote: Understanding the Effects of Wildfires on Air Quality (2022, Sept. 7) retrieved Sept. 7, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-effects-wildfires-air-quality.html

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