Particulate Levels Underneath Landscape Fire Smoke Plumes in the Sydney Region of Australia

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Smoke pollution from landscape fires is a major health problem, but it is difficult to predict the impact of any particular fire. For example, smoke plumes can be mapped using remote sensing, but we do not know how the smoke is distributed in the air-column. Prescribed burning involves the deliberate introduction of smoke to human communities but the amount, composition, and distribution of the pollution may be different to wildfires. We examined whether mapped plumes produced high levels of particulate pollution (PM2.5) at permanent air quality monitors and factors that influenced those levels. We mapped 1237 plumes, all those observed in 17 years of MODIS imagery over New South Wales, Australia, but this was only ~20% of known fires. Prescribed burn plumes tended to occur over more populated areas than wildfires. Only 18% of wildfire plumes and 4% of prescribed burn plumes passed over a monitor (n = 115). A minority of plumes caused a detectable increase in PM2.5: prescribed burn plumes caused an air quality exceedance for 33% of observations in the daytime and 11% at night, wildfire plumes caused exceedances for 48% and 22% of observations in the day and night-time, respectively. Thus, most plumes remained aloft (did not reach the surface). Statistical modelling revealed that wind speed, temperature, and mixing height influenced whether a plume caused an exceedance, and there was a difference between prescribed and wild fires. In particular, in wind speeds below 1 kmhr−1, exceedance was almost certain in prescribed burns. This information will be useful for planning prescribed burning, preparing warnings, and improving our ability to predict smoke impacts.

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NSW Department of Planning,Industry and Environment



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