Wildfire, Smoke In-Depth: Study shows wildfire smoke trends worsening
s has seen a dramatic increase in wildfires with catastrophic results, most notably in california, oregon and colorado, but utah has also suffered from our own fires and from sitting in the center of normal air flows that carry thick smoke to us. Now new research from the university of utah shows what that smoke is doing to the air that we breathe in the summer. We want to go in depth on this, so joining us live via zoom is kai, wilmot from the university of utah researcher there in the department of atmospheric science and a phd student and kai. Thank you for for joining us to answer some questions. This is this. Has become a real point of concern and i wonder um in terms of the big picture, what are we seeing in utah and how is it changing um? I guess the big picture for utah is we’re, seeing trends towards increasingly poor air quality, both in august and september, which are statistically significant um. So the expectation can be that you know that’s, probably going to continue happening into the future and that findings in line with other research in the field as well. So a bit of a bleak outlook – and i understand that uh yeah – that saying that it’s going into september that’s a that that is something new as well the fire season’s getting longer. Is it getting longer on this end, i mean we’ve certainly had bad smoke here. In july so far um yeah, i mean there’s, definitely literature pointing towards just a widening of the fire season.
I believe on both ends um. I would consider this smoke to definitely be a little premature after the fire season in salt lake city, just based on what we’ve been looking at in our recent research. But i guess given uh drought conditions throughout the west and recent heat waves it’s, not not totally. A shock either and one thing that’s different too, i think, is uh. Those of us who live on the wasatch front, we’re used to the the winter inversions with the particulate pollution, but this is more pervasive. This isn’t, this isn’t about being stuck in a valley, that’s that’s, trapping things in it. People are getting pollution up and down the state. Yeah, absolutely i mean um one of the biggest findings. I think of our paper is just that um. This is such a regional issue. You know it’s not just affecting utah, either it’s, really a lot of the west, so yeah, whether you’re in the valley or not, you’re – probably going to experience it this summer. Now i know that you’re uh, you’re saying atmospheric science and so you’re, not necessarily the the medical expert. But uh. Can you tell us anything about what’s different about the particulate pollution that we get in smoke? What we’re, breathing in from these summer fires compared to what we get in that winter smog? Um i mean it has a different chemical composition. This definitely isn’t my particular expertise um, but i mean we’re going to see a lot of pm 2.
5 associated with fires, which we also see in the inversion events, and that has a pretty clear, negative respiratory impact, um that’s, really all i have to say on that. I suppose, no, that completely makes sense and and going back to to your forte with the atmospheric science um. Where is utah placed in all of this i always have you know. I just watch our meteorologists here every day showing the satellite views of where the storms blow, and i just kind of get the sense that fires severe fires located closer to the west coast. We we’re right in the middle of the path of where that air is going are. Do we get more of it than other places um. You know, based on our recent research. It seems like the pacific. Northwest is really getting the brunt of this issue um, but given our position generally downwind of california um, you know we are picking up smoke from the large fires uh that direction, and you know that it’s gon na continue to be that way. Moving forward um, the other interesting thing about utah is, it seems, to kind of um sit on this gradient between the pacific northwest. As you move down towards arizona where we see stronger impacts in the pacific northwest a little bit reduced as we get down towards arizona and we’re, just some sort of somewhere in the middle yeah and and when we uh when we look at this happening, you mentioned It’S, a it’s, a concerning trend that you see going into the future is is: is it clear now this is? This is connected to climate change, uh yeah, i mean there’s there’s.
Certainly, a wealth of literature suggesting that uh climate is going to lead to larger and more intense wildfires and that’s. What we’re seeing and i mean it makes sense from the perspective of if we have drier fuels due to enhanced drought from climate change. We can expect to have a larger, more frequent and more intense wildfires that’s going to generate more smoke, and here we are talk about what comes next.