Investigation of the Interactions between Climate Change, Biomass, Forest Fires, and Air Quality with an Integrated Modeling Approach

EPA Grant Number: R832277
Title: Investigation of the Interactions between Climate Change, Biomass, Forest Fires, and Air Quality with an Integrated Modeling Approach
Investigators: Shankar, Uma , Binkowski, Francis S. , Fox, Douglas G. , Hanna, Adel , Holland, Andy , McNulty, Steve , Seppanen, Catherine , Vukovich, Jeff , Xiu, Aijun
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , USDA Forest Service
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: March 13, 2005 through March 12, 2008 (Extended to March 12, 2009)
Project Amount: $726,566
RFA: Fire, Climate, and Air Quality (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Global Climate Change , Air Quality and Air Toxics , Climate Change , Air


The overall goal of the proposed research is to assess the impact of climate change and variability on biomass and forest fires, the impact of forest fires on ozone and PM air quality, and the regional climate response to these changes in the Southern U.S. using an integrated modeling approach. The primary objectives of the proposed research are (1) to investigate the impacts of climate change on vegetative cover and fuel characteristics, the consequences for fire frequency and intensity, and feedbacks to biomass load and biogenic emissions under managed and wildfire scenarios; (2) to examine changes in regional air quality due to the evolution of anthropogenic and biogenic emissions in response to various fire scenarios; and (3) to investigate the feedback of the air quality changes to regional climate variables.


The proposed research uses a regional air quality modeling system with integrated meteorology and chemistry developed under a former STAR grant that models the aerosol feedbacks to radiation and atmospheric dynamics, which in turn affects the spatial distribution of air pollutants. By coupling several other interdisciplinary modeling systems, i.e., the US Forest Service (USFS) PEcon forest growth model, the Community Smoke Emission Model (CSEM) for smoke emissions from wild and prescribed fires, and the Sparse Matrix Operator Kernel Emissions modeling system, fire and biogenic emissions will be generated for scenarios including wild fire only and national fire management plan for several future years, and their impacts on air quality and climate will be examined using the coupled meteorology-chemistry model. Current fuel loading will be estimated using the National Fire Danger Rating system fuel maps which are based on satellite imagery and have been extensively validated. The spatial extent of burned areas will be estimated, to the extent possible using satellite-derived datasets such as the GOES-based data used in NOAA’s real-time air quality forecasting studies and the new MODIS-based products. Further, a conceptual model to develop spatial data for estimating future fire scenarios will be built based upon a recent USFS assessment of a “fire regime current conditions” map that helps estimate the potential for wildfire. Recent efforts to develop a fuel condition classification (FCC) system may also be investigated for potential use with PEcon. Feedbacks of fire fuel consumption to vegetative cover will be investigated using PEcon and also an alternative model such as the USDA’s First Order Fire Effects Model (FOFEM).

Initial and boundary conditions provided by the 21st century experiments simulated by the NCAR Community Climate System Model will permit modeling of base and future years for a few months or 2 representative seasons in each year for each emission scenario, and examination of changes in air quality, and their intra- and inter-annual impacts on key regional climate parameters under the various fire scenarios. The proposed project is a collaboration between the University of North Carolina—Carolina Environmental Program, Dr. Doug Fox, a private consultant and developer of CSEM, and Dr. Steve McNulty at USFS, a developer of PEcon. Dr. Fox will provide consultation on all aspects of the CSEM model implementation, enhancements and evaluation of the fire emissions within the coupled meteorology chemistry model. Dr. McNulty will provide consultation on the use of PEcon and the linkages to the CSEM/SMOKE system.

Expected Results:

The proposed studies will result in a significantly improved, and readily accessible modeling system for understanding the complex and cyclical nature of the interactions between climate change, fire occurrence, and air quality, and thus help address important issues related to an emission source that has serious environmental, public health and economic consequences. Even though the model simulations and evaluations under this project will be focused on the southern U.S. domain, the research can prove as a proof of concept that can be applied to other regions (e.g., western US).

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 21 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

meteorology, landuse, land cover, radiative feedback, aerosols, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Chemistry, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Monitoring/Modeling, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Atmosphere, Community Smoke Emissions Model, anthropogenic stress, environmental measurement, meteorology, climatic influence, global ciruclation model, global change, ozone depletion, air quality model, biomass, climate models, terrestial ecosystem model, environmental stress, coastal ecosystems, ecological models, climate model, forest resources, Global Climate Change, atmospheric chemistry, climate variability

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2005 Progress Report
  • 2006 Progress Report
  • 2007 Progress Report
  • Final Report