Smoke patterns around prescribed fires in australian eucalypt forests, as measured by low-cost particulate monitors

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Prescribed burns produce smoke pollution, but little is known about the spatial and temporal pattern because smoke plumes are usually small and poorly captured by State air-quality networks. Here, we sampled smoke around 18 forested prescribed burns in the Sydney region of eastern Australia using up to 11 Nova SDS011 particulate sensors and developed a Generalised Linear Mixed Model to predict hourly PM2.5 concentrations as a function of distance, fire size and weather conditions. During the day of the burn, PM2.5 tended to show hourly exceedances (indicating poor air quality) up to ~2 km from the fire but only in the downwind direction. In the evening, this zone expanded to up to 5 km and included upwind areas. PM2.5 concentrations were higher in still, cool weather and with an unstable atmosphere. PM2.5 concentrations were also higher in larger fires. The statistical model confirmed these results, identifying the effects of distance, period of the day, wind angle, fire size, temperature and C-Haines (atmospheric instability). The model correctly identified 78% of hourly exceedance and 72% of non-exceedance values in retained test data. Applying the statistical model predicts that prescribed burns of 1000 ha can be expected to cause air quality exceedances over an area of ~3500 ha. Cool weather that reduces the risk of fire escape, has the highest potential for polluting nearby communities, and fires that burn into the night are particularly bad.

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Funding Sponsor

NSW Department of Planning,Industry and Environment



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