2015 Progress Report: Dynamic Management of Prescribed Burning for Better Air Quality

EPA Grant Number: R835217
Title: Dynamic Management of Prescribed Burning for Better Air Quality
Investigators: Odman, Mehmet Talat , Chang, Michael E. , Hu, Yongtao , Tian, Di
Current Investigators: Odman, Mehmet Talat , Chan, Daniel , Chang, Michael E. , Hu, Yongtao , Tian, Di
Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology , Georgia Environmental Protection Division
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: June 1, 2012 through May 31, 2015 (Extended to February 28, 2017)
Project Period Covered by this Report: June 1, 2015 through May 31,2016
Project Amount: $500,000
RFA: Dynamic Air Quality Management (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Air Quality and Air Toxics , Air


Prescribed burning (PB) is an important part of land management in the southeastern United States, but it is also a threat to air quality. If rigid restrictions are imposed on PB because of air quality concerns, ecological and hazard reduction benefits of PB are reduced. Forecast-based dynamic management can both reduce the air quality risks and maximize the amount of lands treated by PB as go/no-go decisions can be made on relatively short notice. The objectives of this project are to:

  • Develop a PB impact prediction system that can be used in forecasting mode using existing forecasting systems, available observational data, and recently developed modeling tools.
  • Evaluate the forecasting accuracy of the system under PB influence on air quality.
  • Integrate this system into PB management and investigate dynamic management options.
  • Assess the benefits of dynamic PB management.

Progress Summary:

The goals of the project have not changed from the original application. Activities during the fourth year of the project focused on the continued development and evaluation of operational fire impact forecasting and its integration into PB management. We held a stakeholder workshop to discuss how to minimize the air quality impacts of PB while maximizing the use of PB for ecological benefits and wildfire risk reduction. We outlined a protocol for incorporating the air quality and PB impact forecasts into the current PB permitting process. The protocol involves denying applications or restricting the acreages of the permits on poor air quality days and encouraging burns on days when there are no imminent air quality concerns.

The PB forecasting tool has been revised to use a different decision tree model for each county by exploring historic relationships between meteorological parameters at the representative fire weather station and daily burn acreages in that county. The number of predictor variables were limited to circumvent over-modeling. Whether tomorrow will be a “burn day” is decided based on the weather forecast and, if so, an acreage equal to the monthly mean burn area for that county is assumed to be treated by PB for burn impact forecasting. The reason for switching from the annual mean burn area to the monthly means is the large inter-annual variability in burn acreages. This approach was tested for 10 days out of the 2015 burning season and resulted in significantly improved burn impact forecast accuracy.

The PB impact prediction system was operated in a daily forecasting mode during the 2016 burn season (January–April 2016). The burn forecasts were evaluated qualitatively every day against the NOAA Hazard Mapping System Fire and Smoke Analyses for agreement in location and density of the fires and quantitatively against the burn areas from NOAA’s Biomass Burning Emission Product for North America and, at the end of the burn season, against burn areas permitted by the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC). Burn impact forecasts were evaluated using observations of possible PB impacts by the statewide air quality monitoring network. Overall, the forecasts improved significantly from 2015 to 2016 but not as much as expected because El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions created abnormal weather patterns in the early burn season. Parallel research focused on the reasons for the underestimation by satellites of burn areas with respect to records in GFC’s permit database. Cloud cover and leaf cover emerged as two potential reasons. Fires detections by satellites were deficient on cloudy days and the correlation between the satellite-retrieved burn areas and permitted burn areas deteriorated from January to April in deciduous forests as leaves sprouted.

Daily burn area and air quality and burn impact forecasts for each county were posted to our website for use by the GFC. Based on GFC comments, a new method is being designed to calculate how many acres can be burned in each county without causing any air quality exceedances. The method will use Gaussian plumes to partition the total impact calculated by DDM into impacts of the individual fires upwind. This approach is relatively simple and can provide the desired solution without disrupting the operational forecast.

Future Activities:

In the remaining time for this project, evaluation of the PB impact prediction system for the 2016 burn season will continue. The 2016 impact forecast performance will be compared to the performance during the 2015 burn season, and the differences will be noted. The protocol for utilizing the air quality and PB impact forecasts as a tool to minimize poor air quality and maximize prescribed burn activity will be revised according to the comments by the Georgia Forestry Commission. The potential benefits of using the PB impact prediction system in the permitting process will be assessed. A final report will be prepared in accordance with EPA's reporting requirements and guidance, and the manuscripts in preparation will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 19 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Silviculture, forest fuels, forecasting, forward sensitivity, simulation, air quality

Relevant Websites:

SIP-C Smoke Impact Prediction Center Exit
HiRes2 - Air Quality and Source Impacts Forecasting for Georgia Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
2012 Progress Report
2013 Progress Report
2014 Progress Report
Final Report