How will climatic change affect air quality in parks and wilderness?


McKenzie, D., O’Neill, S., Larkin, N., Norheim, R.A. 2006. How will climatic change affect air quality in parks and wilderness? In D. Harmon (ed.), Proceedings of the George Wright Society Annual Meeting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The George Wright Society.


A substantial portion of visibility impairment in protected areas in the western United States is produced by smoke from wildland fires. If temperature increases from climatic change increase area burned, we can expect further degradation of air quality, particularly in Class I designated wilderness areas. We present an integrated modeling framework for estimating regional haze from fire emissions. This model simulates regional haze under current conditions and allows us to extrapolate to future climate. A fire-scenario builder uses real-time mesoscale meteorology to project wildfire events. A fuel-mapping module links GIS vegetation data to a fuel classification system. A framework of emission, consumption, dispersion, and trajectory models reads the fire event data and the fuel mappings and calculates smoke emissions, plume rise, and regional-scale dispersion. To date, we have results from a 12-km domain in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Haze-producing emissions are sensitive to climatic variability, particularly synoptic weather patterns, and the stochastic nature of fire occurrence, but to the degree that they can be offset by both short- and long-term management efforts, predicted increases could be partly mitigated. Our modeling underscores the importance of the region-wide context of wildfire for natural resource management in parks and wilderness.