FIREX Research Strategies and Activities

We summarize an integrated strategy using ongoing and proposed research on BB within NOAA/OAR that coordinates efforts, based in part on the above science questions. Research will take place on scales ranging from the flame-front to the global atmosphere. The FIREX campaign will be a multi-year effort, with methods development, small- and large-scale laboratory and field experiments. The initial research will include new instrument development that will be used throughout all parts of the FIREX campaign. The laboratory and field experiments will include:

  • Emission factor measurements from typical North American fuels in the fire science laboratory in Missoula, Montana
  • CIRES atmospheric simulation chamber studies of the chemical evolution of fire emissions
  • Mobile laboratory deployments
  • Ground site measurements at Storm Peak, Colorado often influenced by BB from several western states
  • Small aircraft deployment with the NOAA Twin Otter or similar aircraft for assessment of emission factor estimates

The results of these activities will yield immediate answers to some of the science questions and will be incorporated into our understanding to provide the necessary scientific background for a large-scale field experiment in 2018 that will have the NOAA WP-3D aircraft at its center and include many of the other smaller platforms. The strategy and a proposed timetable for the specific activities are outlined below and the expected outcomes discussed. The research strategies described below are based on current understanding, knowledge and capabilities, with some reasonable projections based on institutional experience.

Table 2: Proposed activity timetable

FY 2015FY 2016FY 2017FY 2018FY 2019
Individual ActivitiesIntensive
1Instrument, model development
initial lab and field experiments
2Emission data incorporation in inventories and model development
3Fire lab: emission factors, compound identification (typical NA fuels) and chamber studies
4Simulation chamber study for chemical transformation of new compounds
5Field observations with small aircraft, mobile lab and ground site
6Large multi-platform intensive
7Fire lab and simulation chamber:
(2018 intensive measured fuels)
8Coordinating studies with other agencies
Interpretation and Analysis
FY with major work for activity
FY with minor work for activity
FY with large-scale field experiment
  1. Instrument, Methods, and Model Development
  2. Improved measurement techniques, analysis methods, and model approaches are required to address the research needs outlined above. Considerable development activities will need to be undertaken to adapt and improve physical and chemical measurement techniques to study fires. Regional photochemical transport models incorporating fire emissions and chemistry will need to be refined to provide guidance on the impact of fires on air quality and climate.

    • Gas phase – reduced nitrogen compounds, SVOC, IVOCs and VOCs
    • Particle phase – Optical Methods, SOA precursors, possibly ice nucleation
    • Fine-scale meteorological measurements and model development
  3. Initial Laboratory and Field Experiments
  4. Laboratory and small scale field projects will be undertaken to address questions regarding chemical composition and processing associated with BB, develop and test new technology, and demonstrate field readiness. These studies will involve measurements of process-level parameters, optical properties, as well as chemical transformation of fire emissions. Test measurements using the developed methods and chemical mechanisms will be undertaken locally and at sites of opportunity in the western U.S., e.g. at the CIRES atmospheric chemistry simulation chamber, the NOAA Boulder mesa site, or Storm Peak laboratory.

    • Measure rates and develop mechanisms for key gas and heterogeneous-phase reactions
    • Measure fixed nitrogen balance in BB plumes (new and aged)
    • Quantify key semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs)
  5. Emissions Data Incorporation and Inventory Development
  6. Current knowledge and updated data bases on fire emissions need to be incorporated into products that can be used for air quality and global models by the modeling community. The next generation of satellites presents the opportunity for higher resolution fire detection leading to more accurate fire counts and better observation of fire products leading to improved top-down constraints. Several groups in collaboration with NOAA/CSD will use these data to improve satellite detection, emissions estimates, observations, and satellite retrievals.

  7. Fire Lab Study
  8. A coordinated effort based at the USDA Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana is envisioned during FY2016 and 2019. Experiments will focus on refining our understanding of emissions and short timescale processing using the instruments and methods that have been developed during the first years of this project. The focus will be on measuring fuels or combustion conditions that are characteristic of the western US that may be under-sampled by the fire research community and in the follow-up study of fuels from fires observed during the 2018 intensive field study.

    • Fixed nitrogen budget and its chemical evolution
    • Identification of unknown SVOCs and VOCs
    • Multi-phase distribution of SVOCs
    • Optical properties of fresh and progressively aged particles
  9. CIRES Atmospheric Simulation Chamber Study
  10. A coordinated effort at the CIRES atmospheric simulation chamber is envisioned during FY2017. The chamber is a newly developed facility at CU Boulder, headed by Profs. Ziemann and Jimenez. The study will focus on the atmospheric chemistry of a range of VOCs that are unique to smoke, for example aromatic aldehydes, alcohols and acids. Previous work has shown that these compounds may be among the most efficient precursors for SOA formation in smoke, but the amount of previous work is very limited making these conclusions highly uncertain. The experiments will serve to better understand the aging of smoke in the atmosphere, as well as to identify specific marker compounds that can be used in the interpretation of field data. The chamber facility has a sample preparation room that allows the injection of real smoke into the chamber. Previous work has shown that the aging of smoke in a chamber can lead to significant SOA formation for some fuels, but none for others. The dependence of these differences on smoke composition are not well understood, hindering the description of smoke impacts on regional atmospheric environments.

  11. Field observations with small aircraft, mobile lab and ground site
  12. Small-scale field experiments will be conducted to investigate specific aspects of BB influence on the regional atmosphere.

    • UAS measurements of meteorological parameters including RH (fire weather), particle number density (primary aerosol). Other desired measurements include CO and CO2 for MCE determination
    • Small aircraft, e.g. Twin Otters for source determination (CO, CO2, aerosol, organics)
    • Mobile laboratory for near-source ground observations where aircraft cannot easily access, especially at night
    • Measurements at a high-elevation site, for example the Desert Research Institute Storm Peak Laboratory (SPL) in Colorado, are sensitive to wildfire emissions across a significant fraction of the western U.S. Long-term measurements by NOAA's Global Monitoring Division at SPL have shown summertime increases in aerosol absorption that are likely due to wildfire emissions. Measurements at this site, in parallel with the intensive NOAA WP-3D mission, can be used to make a more detailed chemical and microphysical characterization of dilute, aged smoke, as well as provide an additional time series to quantify emissions in the western U.S. using inverse modeling.
  13. Large-scale coordinated intensive field study
  14. A field intensive involving heavy aircraft, ground/mobile platforms and satellites will be conducted during wildfire season in the summer of 2018. This effort will involve chemical and physical characterization of fire plumes from the local to the regional scale with the goal of obtaining real world data on the impacts of fires on the atmosphere. The effort will be focused on the wildfire season; however, the difficulty in predicting locations of wildfires might require us to choose several possible bases of operation and have the option to transit among them and deploy from any one of them for a period of time. Surface-based experiments will need to be deployable on short notice and moveable during the project.

    • NOAA WP-3D aircraft for measurements on medium to regional scales and from boundary layer to the middle of the troposphere.
    • Rapidly deployable ground and mobile site(s) to include local scale chemical and physical measurements and UAS.
    • Mobile laboratory to provide medium-scale surveys of fire impacts
    • The Twin Otter (or other small aircraft) for detailed emission studies in coordination with the WP-3D. For example, the Twin Otter could study how the emissions change in the first few hours, while the WP-3D is flying downwind to study the chemical evolution on day to multi-day timescales
    • Satellite observations of fire and plume locations and intensities, optical properties, and chemical constituents
  15. Interpretation and Analysis
  16. The results of the above activities will be continually assessed and used to update and refine the project goals and plans. The general areas of interest will be those that further our understanding of wildfire and BB impacts on the atmosphere.

    • Regional models can be used to assess the larger scale significance of processes discovered or elucidated in the laboratory and field studies. They can be used to develop computationally efficient parameterizations for global models, while the models can in turn be validated by the field observations.
    • Nitrogen and carbon balances of fire emissions, and assessment of emissions factors of new compounds, BrC and BC.
    • Chemical reaction rates and mechanisms of compounds specific to wild fires and BB.
    • Emissions inventory construction and verification
    • Meteorological and chemical model validation
    • Refinement of satellite chemical and optical property observations

For further information, download the FIREX White Paper PDF file