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

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Monitoring lava lake levels in Congo volcano
16.05.2018 | Seismological Society of America

nachricht Ice stream draining Greenland Ice Sheet sensitive to changes over past 45,000 years
14.05.2018 | Oregon State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>