Wildfires in the Rocky Mountains Region: Current and Future Impacts on PM2.5, Health, and Policy

EPA Grant Number: R835869
Title: Wildfires in the Rocky Mountains Region: Current and Future Impacts on PM2.5, Health, and Policy
Investigators: Liu, Yang , Chang, Howard , Fu, Joshua , Liu, Yongqiang , Strickland, Matthew J
Institution: Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University , U.S. Forest Service , University of Nevada - Reno , University of Tennessee - Knoxville
EPA Project Officer: Keating, Terry
Project Period: January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2018
Project Amount: $786,089
RFA: Particulate Matter and Related Pollutants in a Changing World (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Air , Global Climate Change , Air Quality and Air Toxics , Climate Change


In recent decades, the Western United States has seen heightened wildfire activity, characterized by a higher frequency of large wildfires, a longer fire season, larger fire size, and a greater total area burned. With projected temperature increases, soil moisture reduction, and more frequent air stagnation, the burden of wildfires on air quality, public health, and environmental management will likely increase. With state-of-the-art global climate, regional climate, and air quality models; ground and satellite measurements; and detailed health information, we propose to investigate the impacts of historical and future wildfires on air quality, public health, and environmental management in the Rocky Mountains Region under various climate change scenarios and population growth patterns. 


First, we will enhance the future CMAQ fire emissions inventory with spatially resolved joint distributions of fire probabilities developed by the US Forest Service. Second, a CESM/WRF/CMAQ dynamical downscaling framework will generate PM2.5, O3 and visibility levels at 12 km resolution under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 in our study region in the baseline years (1995 - 2004) and future years (2030 - 2039, and 2050 - 2059). Third, recently collected emergency department (ED) visits and acute hospitalizations data in Colorado in the summers of 2011 - 2014 will be used together with accurate PM2.5 and ozone exposure estimates to develop region-specific concentration-response (C-R) functions. Fourth, these C-R functions in combination with projected future PM2.5 and O3 will be used in the EPA BenMAP framework to estimate the impacts of future wildfires on public health. Finally, model simulated PM2.5 and visibility in baseline and future years will be used to evaluate current fire smoke risk communication guidelines in this region. 

Expected Results:

This research addresses an important, understudied link between climate and aerosol research and could significantly increase our understanding of the implications of climate change for PM and public health in the Rocky Mountains Region. The proposed method development and epidemiologic modeling will enrich EPA tools, such as CMAQ and BenMAP. The visibility analysis is expected to provide support to regional environmental management decision-making. 

Supplemental Keywords:

Representative Concentration Pathways, PM2.5 exposure, acute health effects, decision making, Colorado, health impact assessment;

Progress and Final Reports:

2016 Progress Report