Scientists race to reveal how surging wildfire smoke is affecting climate and health

This article discusses how bad smoke is to health.

Emily Fischer is likely one of the few people whose summer plans were buoyed by a recent forecast that much of the western United States faces another worse-than-normal wildfire season. Unusually warm weather and drought, together with plenty of dry grass and brush, are expected to create prime conditions for blazes this summer, federal officials announced on 10 May.

The forecast has local officials bracing for the worst. But it represents an opportunity for Fischer, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins who is preparing to spend the summer flying through plumes of wildfire smoke aboard a C-130 cargo plane jammed full of scientific equipment. The flights are the highlight of an unprecedented effort, costing more than $30 million, that involves aircraft, satellites, instrumented vans, and even researchers traveling on foot. Over the next 2 years, two coordinated campaigns—one funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the other by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—aim to better understand the chemistry and physics of wildfire smoke, as well as how it affects climate, air pollution, and human health.

“This is definitely the largest fire experiment that has ever happened,” says atmospheric chemist Carsten Warneke of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, one of the lead scientists. Wildfire smoke, he adds, is “one of the largest problems facing air quality and climate issues going forward.”

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