Identifying and Improving Wildfire Forecast Model Weaknesses Using FIREX-AQ Observations

  • 21 October 2022

Credit: Steve Brown, NOAA CSL

Pollutants added to the lower atmosphere through wildfire smoke plumes cause important impacts to Earth’s radiative budget, air quality, visibility, and human health, but past attempts to forecast this process through models have been inaccurate. The Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) Experiment was a joint NOAA/NASA field campaign funded in part by CPO’s Atmospheric Chemistry, Carbon Cycle and Climate (AC4) Program in summer 2019. The program collected aircraft and ground-based observations of Western US wildfires to investigate the impact on air quality and climate. 

An international group of researchers, including AC4-supported scientist Pablo Saide of the University of California, Los Angeles, used FIREX-AQ data to evaluate model representations of wildfire smoke plume rise. The results, published in Nature Communications Earth & Environment, indicate that models tend to overestimate the amount of plume injection by as much as 60%. The study shows model performance can be substantially improved by using observed values of heat flux and boundary layer heights, emphasizing the importance of observations in simulations to correctly forecast wildfire impacts. This publication adds to a growing body of AC4-funded research to improve knowledge of atmospheric composition resulting from biomass burning by focusing on fires in the Western U.S.
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