Wildfires are a common occurrence in the American West during the summer months. While the fires are an essential process in the ecological health of the western forests and plains, they also pose significant hazards to the people living in these regions. One immediate effect is the degradation of air quality. The smoke from wildfires contains particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful pollutants. These pollutants can be transported thousands of miles from the source of the original fire and can linger for several days, depending on weather patterns. For example, in July, wildfires across western Canada prompted air quality warnings as far away as Colorado and the Central Plains.
Unlike point sources, like power plants and refineries, we cannot regulate and install emission controls on wildfires. Some fires are natural, unplanned events, while some are prescribed burns started to thin out forests and control the hazards associated with unplanned fires. Both events have the potential to negatively affect air quality. Some recent work1 suggests that frequent prescribed burns controlling factors such as timing, temperature, and humidity may help lower particulate matter concentrations from fires.
Two of our Mesa offices have felt the negative effects of wildfires this summer. Our Bozeman office is currently experiencing smoky skies from fires in Western Montana, Idaho and Washington. Earlier this summer, the air quality in Lakewood was poor due to atmospheric circulation bringing in smoke from as far away as British Columbia.
Portable particulate samplers, like our BGI samplers, can be quickly mobilized to study the output and effects from wildfire events. This application is idea for fenceline monitoring units, like the Omni-FT, to deploy a number of small, portable samplers around the perimeter of a fire event to understand the spatial distribution of smoke in a region.
- Robertson, K.M, et al. (2014) Atmospheric Environment, vol. 99, p. 104 – 111.
(photo courtesy of Chip Ritter, Bozeman, MT @ChipRitter)