Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Damage, pollution from wildfires could surge as western U.S. warms

29.07.2009
By 2055, wildfires in the western United States could scorch about 50 percent more land than they do now, causing a sharp decline in the region's air quality, a new study predicts.

This potential leap in destructiveness and pollution--mainly from an increase in wildfire frequency--is forecast by computer models calculating impacts of moderate global warming on western U.S. wildfire patterns and atmospheric chemistry. As fires and smoke increase, the health of people living in the region could suffer, the study's authors say.

Atmospheric scientists at Harvard University who conducted the research report that their models show the greatest future increases in area burned (75 to 175 percent) in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. And, because of extra burning throughout the western U.S., one important type of smoke particle--organic carbon aerosols--would increase, on average, by about 40 percent during the roughly half-century period, they add.

Previous studies by other researchers have probed the links between climate change and fire severity in the West and elsewhere. However, the Harvard study represents the first attempt to quantify the impact of future wildfires on the air we breathe, says Jennifer Logan of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who led the research. A report on the results has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

"Warmer temperatures can dry out underbrush, leading to a more serious conflagration once a fire is started by lightning or human activity," notes Logan.

"Because smoke and other particles from fires adversely affect air quality, an increase in wildfires could have large impacts on human health."

To conduct the research, the team first examined a 25-year record of observed meteorology and fire statistics to identify those meteorological factors that could best predict area burned for each ecosystem in the western United States. To see how these meteorological factors would change in the future, the researchers then next ran a global climate model out to 2055, following a scenario of future greenhouse gas emissions known as A1B. This scenario, one of several devised by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, describes a future world with rapid economic growth and balanced energy generation from fossil and alternative fuels. Relative to the other scenarios, it leads to a moderate warming of the earth's average surface temperature, about 1.6 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050.

"By hypothesizing that the same relationships between meteorology and area burned still hold in the future, we then could predict wildfire activity and emissions from 2000 to the 2050's," explains Logan.

As a last step, the researchers used an atmospheric chemistry model to understand how the change in wildfire activity would affect air quality. This model, combining their predictions of areas burned with projected 2050s meteorology data, shows the quantities of emissions and the fates of smoke and other particles released by the future wildfires. The resulting diminished air quality could lead to smoggier skies and adversely affect those suffering from lung and heart conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Such consequences are a "climate penalty" that diminishes the effectiveness of efforts to reduce air pollution across the United States, the researchers say. Their new work could help policymakers gauge how severe that penalty might become. In addition, the study underscores the need for a vigorous fire management plan.

The team next plans to focus on future wildfires and air quality over the densely populated areas in California and in the southwest United States.

Logan's collaborators include Research Associate Loretta Mickley and former postdocs Dominick Spracklen and Rynda Hudman, all at SEAS. Grants from the STAR (Science to Achieve Results) program of the National Center for Environmental Research of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and from NASA supported this research.

Title:
"Impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and carbonaceous

aerosol concentrations in the western United States"

Authors:
Dominick V. Spracklen: School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard
University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; Now at School of Earth and
Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK;
Loretta J. Mickley, Jennifer A. Logan, Rynda C. Hudman, Rosemarie Yevich: School
of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, USA;
Michael D. Flannigan: Canadian Forest Service, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada;

Anthony L. Westerling: University of California, Merced, California, USA.

Contact information for authors:
Jennifer A. Logan, Senior Research Fellow, 617-495-4582, jlogan@seas.harvard.edu
Loretta J. Mickley, Research Associate, 617-496-5635, mickley@fas.harvard.edu

Maria-Jose Vinas | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease

22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Meter-sized single-crystal graphene growth becomes possible

22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Repairing damaged hearts with self-healing heart cells

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>