Investigation of the Effects of Changing Climate on Fires and the Consequences for U.S. Air Quality, Phase 2.

EPA Grant Number: R834282
Title: Investigation of the Effects of Changing Climate on Fires and the Consequences for U.S. Air Quality, Phase 2.
Investigators: Logan, Jennifer A. , Mickley, Loretta J. , Rind, David
Institution: Harvard University , NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: November 1, 2009 through October 31, 2012 (Extended to October 31, 2013)
Project Amount: $599,366
RFA: Adaptation for Future Air Quality Analysis and Decision Support Tools in Light of Global Change Impacts and Mitigation (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Air Quality and Air Toxics , Global Climate Change , Climate Change , Air


In coming decades, climate change will likely affect the severity and frequency of wildfires across North America, with significant consequences for regional air quality and human health. Since wildfires occur episodically, with varying emissions, quantifying the impact of changing wildfire activity on air quality is challenging. Using a suite of models, we plan to continue our investigation of the consequences of climate change on fires, and the resultant impact on U.S. air quality, funded under a previous EPA-STAR program.


Recent studies have suggested that wildfires may become more common in a future warmer climate, with more extensive burned areas and greater emissions. Few studies, however, have investigated the impact of changing wildfires on regional air quality. In Phase 2, we plan to better quantify and understand the relationships between changing climate, wildfires, and surface concentrations of ozone and particulate matter (PM). We will improve and apply the fire prediction model we developed under Phase 1 of this project to several new and important issues. We will focus on the effects of shrub and grassland fires in California and the Southwest United States, as well as those of fires in the North American boreal forests. We will further refine our fire prediction model by taking into account such critical factors as (1) the influence of changing lightning ignition rates on wildfires, (2) lengthening of the fire season in a warming climate, and (3) the effect of changing fire severity and land cover on fuel consumption.


We will use the Goddard Institute for Space Studies General Circulation Model III (GISS GCM III) to generate meteorological fields to drive our fire prediction model. To calculate the impact of changing wildfires on air quality, we will apply predicted area burned from the fire model together with the GISS meteorology to the chemical transport model GEOS-Chem. Through application of meteorological fields calculated with multiple climate scenarios and models, we will set bounds on the uncertainties in our wildfire and air quality projections. We will coordinate our efforts with those of the EPA-funded Harvard project Global Change and Air Pollution (GCAP), which examines the direct effect of climate change on air quality without consideration of changing wildfire activity.

Expected Results:

The impact of wildfire emissions on air quality can reach hazardous levels, as fires in California have repeatedly demonstrated. Our work will enhance understanding of the complex relationships between coming climate change, wildfires, and future air quality. We will examine in particular to what extent current air quality regulations will be undone by changing wildfire emissions, and in this way we will help quantify the “climate penalty” on ongoing efforts to reduce air pollution. Through our collaboration with the California Air Resources Board, we will provide tools to guide policymakers as they develop strategies for protecting public health in a changing world.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 6 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 3 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

forest fires, wildfires, biomass burning, air quality, tropospheric ozone, tropospheric aerosol, PM, visibility, climate models, air pollution, climate change, health effects, pollution prevention, public policy,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Environmental Monitoring

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2010 Progress Report
  • 2011 Progress Report
  • 2012 Progress Report
  • Final Report