Environmental Conditions, Ignition Type, and Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires in the Southeastern and Western United States
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Environmental Conditions, Ignition Type, and Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires in the Southeastern and Western United States
  • Published Date:

    2018

  • Source:
    Earths Future, 6(10), 1442-1456.
Filetype[PDF-1.23 MB]


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  • Description:
    This research contrasts the environmental conditions, meteorological drivers, and air quality impacts of human- and lightning-ignited wildfires in the southeastern and western United States, the two continental U.S. regions with the most wildfire burn area. We use the Fire Program Analysis Wildfire Occurrence Data (FPA FOD) to determine wildfire abundance and ignition sources between 1992 and 2015. We investigate specific ecoregions within these two U.S. regions and find that in the majority of ecoregions, annual lightning- and human-ignited wildfire burn area have similar relationships with key meteorological parameters. We investigate the fuel moisture values where wildfires occur segregated by ignition type and show that within a given ecoregion, the differences in median fuel moisture between ignition types are generally smaller than the differences between ecoregions. Our results suggest that annual wildfire burn area for human- and lightning-ignited wildfires within a given ecoregion are modulated by environmental conditions, and climate change may similarly impact wildfires of both ignition types. Finally, we estimate fine particulate matter emissions for Fire Program Analysis Wildfire Occurrence Data wildfires using the Fire INventory from NCAR model framework. We show that emissions of fine particulate matter from human-ignited wildfires is significant and of a similar total magnitude between the west and southeastern United States. Additionally, the west and southeast have a similar number of wildfires associated with National Weather Service air quality smoke forecasts. Plain Language Summary This research compares the environmental conditions, meteorological drivers, and air quality impacts of human- and lightning-ignited wildfires in the southeastern and western United States. We use a wildfire occurrence data set that documents wildfire ignition sources. We find that for the majority of land cover types within the west and southeast, annual lightning- and human-ignited wildfire burn area respond similarly to temperature, precipitation, and relative humidity. We investigate the fuel moisture values where wildfires occur segregated by ignition type and show that within a given geographic area, the differences in fuel moisture between ignition types are generally smaller than the differences between geographic areas. Our results suggest that annual wildfire burn area for human- and lightning-ignited wildfires may respond similarly to climate change. Finally, we show that human-ignited wildfires impact air quality in the west and southeast United States.
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