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Deterioration of air quality associated with the 2020 US wildfires

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The wildfires of August and September 2020 in the western part of the United States were characterized by an unparalleled duration and wide geographical coverage. A particular consequence of massive wildfires includes serious health effects due to short and long-term exposure to poor air quality. Using a variety of data sources including aerosol optical depth (AOD) and ultraviolet aerosol index (UVAI), obtained with the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), Multi-Angle Implementation of Atmospheric Correction (MAIAC) and Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), combined with meteorological information from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and other supporting data, the impact of wildfires on air quality is examined in the three western US states, California, Oregon, and Washington, and areas to the east. The results show that smoke aerosols not only led to a significant deterioration in air quality in these states but also affected all other states, Canada, and surrounding ocean areas. The wildfires increased the average daily surface concentration of PM2.5 posing significant health risks, especially for vulnerable populations. Large amounts of black carbon (BC) aerosols were emitted into the atmosphere. AOD and UVAI exceeded 1 and 2 over most of the country. In parts of the three western states, those values reached 3.7 and 6.6, respectively. Moreover, a reanalysis based on MERRA-2 (Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2) showed that the maximum values of BC surface mass concentration during the wildfires were about 370 μg/m3. These various indicators provide a better understanding of the extent of environmental and atmospheric degradation associated with these forest fires.
Mikalai Filonchyk, Michael P. Peterson, Dongqi Sun
Mikalai Filonchyk, Michael P. Peterson, Dongqi Sun, Deterioration of air quality associated with the 2020 US wildfires, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 826, 2022, 154103, ISSN 0048-9697,
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