Colorado air quality impacted by long-range-transported aerosol: a set of case studies during the 2015 Pacific Northwest fires
Biomass burning plumes containing aerosols from forest fires can be transported long distances, which can ultimately impact climate and air quality in regions far from the source. Interestingly, these fires can inject aerosols other than smoke into the atmosphere, which very few studies have evidenced. Here, we demonstrate a set of case studies of long-range transport of mineral dust aerosols in addition to smoke from numerous fires (including predominantly forest fires and a few grass/shrub fires) in the Pacific Northwest to Colorado, US. These aerosols were detected in Boulder, Colorado, along the Front Range using beta-ray attenuation and energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and corroborated with satellite-borne lidar observations of smoke and dust. Further, we examined the transport pathways of these aerosols using air mass trajectory analysis and regional- and synoptic-scale meteorological dynamics. Three separate events with poor air quality and increased mass concentrations of metals from biomass burning (S and K) and minerals (Al, Si, Ca, Fe, and Ti) occurred due to the introduction of smoke and dust from regional- and synoptic-scale winds. Cleaner time periods with good air quality and lesser concentrations of biomass burning and mineral metals between the haze events were due to the advection of smoke and dust away from the region. Dust and smoke present in biomass burning haze can have diverse impacts on visibility, health, cloud formation, and surface radiation. Thus, it is important to understand how aerosol populations can be influenced by long-range-transported aerosols, particularly those emitted from large source contributors such as wildfires.