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Impacts of the July 2012 Siberian fire plume on air quality in the Pacific Northwest

TitleImpacts of the July 2012 Siberian fire plume on air quality in the Pacific Northwest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsTeakles, AD, So, R, Ainslie, B, Nissen, R, Schiller, C, Vingarzan, R, McKendry, I, Macdonald, AMarie, Jaffe, DA, Bertram, AK, Strawbridge, KB, W. Leaitch, R, Hanna, S, Toom, D, Baik, J, Huang, L
Date PublishedFEB 21

Biomass burning emissions emit a significant amount of trace gases and aerosols and can affect atmospheric chemistry and radiative forcing for hundreds or thousands of kilometres downwind. They can also contribute to exceedances of air quality standards and have negative impacts on human health. We present a case study of an intense wildfire plume from Siberia that affected the air quality across the Pacific Northwest on 6-10 July 2012. Using satellite measurements (MODIS True Colour RGB imagery and MODIS AOD), we track the wildfire smoke plume from its origin in Siberia to the Pacific Northwest where subsidence ahead of a subtropical Pacific High made the plume settle over the region. The normalized enhancement ratios of O-3 and PM1 relative to CO of 0.26 and 0.08 are consistent with a plume aged 6-10 days. The aerosol mass in the plume was mainly submicron in diameter (PM1 / PM2.5 = 0.96) and the part of the plume sampled at the Whistler High Elevation Monitoring Site (2182 m a.s.l.) was 88% organic material. Stable atmospheric conditions along the coast limited the initial entrainment of the plume and caused local anthropogenic emissions to build up. A synthesis of air quality from the regional surface monitoring networks describes changes in ambient O-3 and PM2.5 during the event and contrasts them to baseline air quality estimates from the AURAMS chemical transport model without wildfire emissions. Overall, the smoke plume contributed significantly to the exceedances in O-3 and PM2.5 air quality standards and objectives that occurred at several communities in the region during the event. Peak enhancements in 8 h O-3 of 34-44 ppbv and 24 h PM2.5 of 10-32 mu g m(-3) were attributed to the effects of the smoke plume across the Interior of British Columbia and at the Whistler Peak High Elevation Site. Lesser enhancements of 10-12 ppbv for 8 h O-3 and of 4-9 mu g m(-3) for 24 h PM2.5 occurred across coastal British Columbia and Washington State. The findings suggest that the large air quality impacts seen during this event were a combination of the efficient transport of the plume across the Pacific, favourable entrainment conditions across the BC interior, and the large scale of the Siberian wildfire emissions. A warming climate increases the risk of increased wildfire activity and events of this scale reoccurring under appropriate meteorological conditions.