Wildfire smoke trends worsening for Western US

By | May 6, 2021

From the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountains, summers to the west are characterized by wildfires and smoke. New research from the University of Utah links the deteriorating trend of extreme poor air quality events in western regions with wildfire activity, with increasing trends in air quality clearing fumes in September. The work is published in Environmental Research Paper.

“In the sense of a bigger picture, we can expect it to get worse,” says Kai Willmott, the study’s lead author and doctoral student in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. “We’re going to see more fire zones burned in the western US between now and 2050. If we follow our trends, it indicates that a lot of urban centers have trouble meeting air quality standards It has been a very short time of 15 years. ”

Draw connection

Many residents of the west have seen smokey summer skies in recent years. Dramatic images of an orange-colored San Francisco Bay Area last year brought attention to the far-reaching problem of wildfire smoke.

Wilmot, a native of the Pacific Northwest, looked at the trends of extreme air quality events in the West, along with his colleagues, from 2000 to 2019 to see if they were related to summer wildfires.

Using a PM2.5 air gauge, or the amount of particulate matter in the air in a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, from the Environmental Protection Agency and Improvis Monitoring Network, measurements of the area burned by the fire and the fire emitted with PM2.5, the researchers Found a consistent trend in air quality that was related to wildfire activity – but August had different spatial patterns than September.

Trends in August and September

Over the years studied, researchers noticed that on average, average air quality was deteriorating in the Pacific Northwest in August when sensors indicated wild smoke events.

“It’s very dramatic,” Wilmot says, “extreme events are strong enough to pull the meaning up so that we can see an overall increase in particulate matter during August. Like it’s really suffering its brunt.”

The reason, he says, is that British Columbia and areas around the Pacific Northwest in Northern California, both experience wildfires around August. The mountainous Pacific Northwest, Wilmot says, sits in the middle.

But by September, researchers found, wildfire activity slows down in British Columbia and migrates to the Rocky Mountains. Smoke also vibrates – Researchers see the emerging trend with wildfire fumes tolerating the rise and fall in September air quality in Montana. Wilmot says, “We see that the PM2.5 trend starts in Rocky.

What about Utah? The study’s findings show that the magnitude and significance of the air quality trend increases as you move west of the Pacific Ocean from the southern states of Arizona and New Mexico.

In Utah, Wilmot says, the air quality trend is near the edge of statistical significance, with evidence of wildfires being affected, but evidence that is less robust than in the Pacific Northwest and California. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” says Wilmot, thinking of events such as the transport of smoke from fires in the Bay Area this past summer.

looking to the future

Other researchers in other studies have suggested that the western U.S. in the future Will bring more fire areas burned, with increased exposure to wildfire smoke throughout the West, and the impact of that smoke on human health.

Wilmot notes that the trends the researchers have seen in the Pacific Northwest in August are “very strong,” he says, while September trends in Montana and Wyoming are still “emerging.”

“I think the concern is that given more time, the emerging trend seems to be a lot more like we’re seeing in August,” he says. “I hope it is not so, but it seems entirely within the realm of possibility.”

Their next step is to develop a simulation model for smoking the emissions of wildlife in urban areas in high-source areas.

“The big picture,” he says, “is to help forest management in the context of identifying hotspots that are particularly relevant to air quality in the western US, such as if we had some degree of intervention There was money to spend for. Emissions of wildfires, we would know where to allocate those funds first to get the most out. ”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.