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Large-Scale Research Project Across Western US Studying Fire Emissions

Bureau of Land Management
Fire smoke from the Baboon Fire near Minersville, UT

As wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent across the nation, scientists are interested in the potential impacts smoke emissions may have on the atmosphere and air quality. 

An emerging research mission called Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality - or FIREX-AQ - is measuring the chemistry and transformations of gases and aerosols from wild and prescribed fires.  This massive scale research project is the most comprehensive study in the United States so far that addresses atmospheric consequences of fires. Over 40 organizations are partnered in the project including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“We’re hoping to improve our understanding of what is coming out of fires in different environments and different conditions. Then the questions is what happens after that stuff is emitted,” said Jack Dibb, a research professor at the University of New Hampshire and a scientists working on the FIREX-AQ project.

Dibb said they will be sampling air surrounding fires using instrumented planes, satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and on-ground instrumentation.

He said prescribed fires are more abundant than wildfires, but less is known about them.

“And then in particular for the very numerous but smaller prescribed burns, there is a fundamental question of how many of these fires are we even missing. So one of the goals of FIREX-AQ is to better understand what determines the detectability of fires from space, and are there ways that future satellite platforms can do a better job of that," Dibb said.

According to Dibb, they aim to start flying their jets this week to Boise, Idaho to begin observing fires across the western Region.