Tripling of Western U.S. Particulate Pollution from Wildfires in a Warming Climate

March 30, 2022

Record-setting fires in the western US over the last decade caused severe air pollution, loss of human life, and property damage. Enhanced drought and increased biomass in a warmer climate may fuel larger and more frequent wildfires in the coming decades. Applying an empirical statistical model to fires projected by Earth system models including climate-ecosystem-socioeconomic interactions, the authors of a new study, led by former AOS Postdoc Yuanyu Xie (C-PREE, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs) with GFDL's Meiyun Lin and AOS Faculty Member Larry Horowitz among the paper's co-authors, show that fine particulate pollution over the US Pacific Northwest could double to triple during late summer to fall by the end of the 21st century under intermediate- and low-mitigation scenarios. The historic fires and resulting pollution extremes of 2017–2020 could occur every 3 to 5 years under 21st century climate change, posing challenges for regional air quality management and threatening public health.

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