Academic Minute Podcast

Bhupal Shrestha, University at Albany – Tracking Western Wildfire Smoke

On University at Albany Week: Western wildfire smoke isn’t just a concern for the Western U.S.

Bhupal Shrestha, senior research scientist, examines how the East Coast also feels the effects.

Bhupal Shrestha, PhD, is a senior research support specialist at the New York State Mesonet at the University at Albany. He completed his MS and PhD in physics with research in atmospheric science at the University at Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. Upon graduation in 2019, he began to work at the New York State Mesonet as a postdoctoral associate conducting research and developing products using the Mesonet’s Profiler Network for operational meteorology. His current research interests are in the areas of boundary layer meteorology, air quality, local wind systems and extreme weather events.

Tracking Western Wildfire Smoke

Multiple studies have found that hotter, drier conditions due to climate change have led to increased wildfire activity in the western United States and southern Canada over the last several decades.

However, new data shows that more frequent and intense western wildfires not only impact the air quality and visibility in surrounding areas, but also as far as the East Coast.

In July 2021, our research team at the University at Albany used real-time, observational data from the New York State Mesonet, an advanced statewide network of weather stations, to monitor transported wildfire smoke and its impact on air pollution across New York.

To detect wildfire smoke, we relied on data from the Mesonet’s 17 profiler sites. Each site is equipped with a scanning Doppler LiDAR and a microwave radiometer that scan the atmospheric boundary layer and report back in real-time. The data is collected, quality-controlled and archived every 10 minutes.

Two significant observations of elevated air pollutants less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) were recorded across the profiler network between July 18-20 and July 25-27, timed around the peak of the summer’s western fire season. The increased emissions started about 36 hours earlier in Upstate regions than in Downstate regions, providing convincing evidence that the aerosols were transported from western wildfires and moving across New York, not from local sources.

To be sure, we also used satellite imagery and a back-trajectory model to confirm and track the transport paths of the emissions arriving in NYS.

PM2.5 emissions have declined across New York and nationally over the last few decades due to new environmental mandates and regulations. But, as shown in our research, increased western wildfire activity threatens to reverse nationwide efforts to reduce air pollution.

Read More:
[Advancing Earth and Space Science] – Observations and Impacts of Long-Range Transported Wildfire Smoke on Air Quality Across New York State During July 2021
[Newsday] – West Coast wildfire smoke expected to reach New York more often, study predicts
[European Geosciences Union] – Evaluation of the New York State Mesonet Profiler Network data


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