Smoke, dust and an unknown future: CSU researchers to study wildfire effects

wildfire smoke

With climate change comes the threat of more wildfires, particularly in the western United States. And where there’s fire, there’s smoke.

This expected increase in wildfire smoke will no doubt affect overall levels of what’s called particulate matter air pollution – the mixture of inhalable solid or liquid particles suspended in air. And wind-driven dust, on the rise due to climate-related aridity and changes in land use, is also expected to contribute to this pollution.

But exactly what the impacts of smoke and dust will be is hard to predict, in part because climate change is also unpredictable. Colorado State University researchers are looking to shed some light. They are doing a new analysis that will incorporate meteorological uncertainty into predictions of increased dust, as well as smoke from fires, and their impact on concentrations of particulate matter in the atmosphere.

EPA-supported research

A research team led by Emily Fischer, assistant professor of atmospheric science, will tackle this complex problem with support from the Environmental Protection Agency. The team, which includes co-investigators Jeff Pierce and Elizabeth Barnes in the same department, has been awarded a three-year, $350,000 grant to determine how modeled, future climate events translate into uncertainty around dust and smoke and particulate matter pollution. The EPA has awarded a set of grants around the issue of particulate matter and related atmospheric pollutants.

Awardees are charged with studying changing spatiotemporal patterns and environmental impacts of particulate matter in the U.S., with a focus on modeling of atmospheric and environmental processes.

The CSU team will model uncertain future meteorology and future smoke and dust by EPA region, to gain a comprehensive view of possible air quality implications.