HomeEarthPredicting particulate pollution levels from wildfires in a warming climate

Predicting particulate pollution levels from wildfires in a warming climate

Scientists have people living in the U.S. Northwest could see a tripling of particulate matter in the atmosphere by 2050 due to wildfires during the late summer months, via modeling that unless climate mitigation efforts are stepped up. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists describes applying an empirical statistical model to fires projected by Earth System Models to make predictions about future particulate levels.

The U.S. Pacific Northwest has seen more and bigger fires than in the past. The increases have been blamed on climate change that caused hot and dry conditions. Fires also reduce homes, businesses and in some cases, whole towns to ashes, in addition to destroying trees and other vegetation. Particulate matter of various sizes is released into the atmosphere, as the fires burn. It produces a form of air pollution. This pollution can heavily impact people not only in the area of the fire. Scientists note that most climate models do not account for the particulate matter released by wildfires. They combined data from climate models with an empirical statistical model to use as a tool in predicting wildfire emissions scenarios over the next 28 years.

Scientists created three particulate level scenarios based on the degree of global climate mitigation efforts. These are strong, moderate and low.

The scientists found that wildfire particulate pollution would likely still increase by 60 to 110% compared to today, under the strongest mitigation effort. They found that particulate pollution could double by 2050, if greenhouse gas emissions remain the same. If greenhouse gas emissions double, then particulate pollution would be triple that of today.

Scientists note that their tool also showed that periods of wildfires in the Upper Northwest are likely to happen more often as conditions worsen. They suggest that the only way to prevent such conditions from occurring is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


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