Meteorological controls on atmospheric particulate pollution during hazard reduction burns

Di Virgilio, Giovanni; Hart, Melissa Anne; Jiang, Ningbo

Internationally, severe wildfires are an escalating problem likely to worsen given projected changes to climate. Hazard reduction burns (HRBs) are used to suppress wildfire occurrences, but they generate considerable emissions of atmospheric fine particulate matter, which depend upon prevailing atmospheric conditions, and can degrade air quality. Our objectives are to improve understanding of the relationships between meteorological conditions and air quality during HRBs in Sydney, Australia. We identify the primary meteorological covariates linked to high PMinline-formula2.5 pollution (particulates inline-formula< 2.5 inline-formulaµm in diameter) and quantify differences in their behaviours between HRB days when PMinline-formula2.5 remained low versus HRB days when PMinline-formula2.5 was high. Generalised additive mixed models were applied to continuous meteorological and PMinline-formula2.5 observations for 2011–2016 at four sites across Sydney. The results show that planetary boundary layer height (PBLH) and total cloud cover were the most consistent predictors of elevated PMinline-formula2.5 during HRBs. During HRB days with low pollution, the PBLH between 00:00 and 07:00 LT (local time) was 100–200 m higher than days with high pollution. The PBLH was similar during 10:00–17:00 LT for both low and high pollution days, but higher after 18:00 LT for HRB days with low pollution. Cloud cover, temperature and wind speed reflected the above pattern, e.g. mean temperatures and wind speeds were 2 inline-formulaC cooler and 0.5 m sinline-formula−1 lower during mornings and evenings of HRB days when air quality was poor. These cooler, more stable morning and evening conditions coincide with nocturnal westerly cold air drainage flows in Sydney, which are associated with reduced mixing height and vertical dispersion, leading to the build-up of PMinline-formula2.5. These findings indicate that air pollution impacts may be reduced by altering the timing of HRBs by conducting them later in the morning (by a matter of hours). Our findings support location-specific forecasts of the air quality impacts of HRBs in Sydney and similar regions elsewhere.

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Di Virgilio, Giovanni / Hart, Melissa Anne / Jiang, Ningbo: Meteorological controls on atmospheric particulate pollution during hazard reduction burns. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Giovanni Di Virgilio et al.

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