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Impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • We investigate the impact of climate change on wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States. We regress observed area burned onto observed meteorological fields and fire indices from the Canadian Fire Weather Index system and find that May-October mean temperature and fuel moisture explain 24-57% of the variance in annual area burned in this region. Applying meteorological fields calculated by a general circulation model (GCM) to our regression model, we show that increases in temperature cause annual mean area burned in the western United States to increase by 54% by the 2050s relative to the present day. Changes in area burned are ecosystem dependent, with the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains experiencing the greatest increases of 78 and 175%, respectively. Increased area burned results in near doubling of wildfire carbonaceous aerosol emissions by midcentury. Using a chemical transport model driven by meteorology from the same GCM, we calculate that climate change will increase summertime organic carbon (OC) aerosol concentrations over the western United States by 40% and elemental carbon (EC) concentrations by 20% from 2000 to 2050. Most of this increase (75% for OC and 95% for EC) is caused by larger wildfire emissions with the rest caused by changes in meteorology and for OC by increased monoterpene emissions in a warmer climate. Such an increase in carbonaceous aerosol would have important consequences for western U. S. air quality and visibility.

  • Date created
    2009
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3SB3X093
  • License
    © 2009 American Geophysical Union. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Spracklen, D. V., L. J. Mickley, J. A. Logan, R. C. Hudman, R. Yevich, M. D. Flannigan, and A. L. Westerling (2009), Impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States. Journal of Geophysical Research, 114, D20301, doi:10.1029/2008JD010966.