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 Yale Leads Study of Wildfires in the Western U.S.


Yale is leading a research program to investigate how Western U.S. wildfires linked to climate change will cause a health risk to millions of Americans exposed to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades. The regions most affected by wildfire smoke in the future include northern California, western Oregon, and the Great Plains.

(Photo credit:  Yale News)

Wildfires have surged in the western United States as a consequence of climate change.  Jia Coco Liu, lead author of the study and a recent Ph.D. graduate at Yale says that findings point to the need for new or modified wildfire management and evacuation programs in the nation’s high-risk regions.  “Our study illustrates that smoke waves are likely to be longer, more intense, and more frequent under climate change.” 

“Smoke waves” refer to the consecutive days with high air pollution related to fires.  As wildfires become more intense as climate changes, large amounts of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, can have profound impacts on human health.  Wildfires are estimated to contribute about 18% of the total PM2.5 emissions in the United States which raises questions about how these emissions will affect human populations.

By using sophisticated atmospheric and climate models, researchers have estimated the levels of PM2.5 directly attributable to wildfires.  When projected into the future climate-change conditions, the years will span from 2046 to 2051.

“We hope these results will advance the understanding of the impacts of an increasing threat of wildfire smoke, and aid in the design of early warning systems, fire suppression policies, and public health programs,” Liu said.  Liu is from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University.