Journal cover Journal topic
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 9223-9236, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
31 Jul 2017
Wildfire air pollution hazard during the 21st century
Wolfgang Knorr1,2, Frank Dentener3, Jean-François Lamarque4, Leiwen Jiang4,5, and Almut Arneth2 1Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University, Sölvegatan 12, 22362 Lund, Sweden
2KIT/IMK-IFU, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
3European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy
4National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA
5Asian Demographic Research Institute, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China
Abstract. Wildfires pose a significant risk to human livelihoods and are a substantial health hazard due to emissions of toxic smoke. Previous studies have shown that climate change, increasing atmospheric CO2, and human demographic dynamics can lead to substantially altered wildfire risk in the future, with fire activity increasing in some regions and decreasing in others. The present study re-examines these results from the perspective of air pollution risk, focussing on emissions of airborne particulate matter (PM2. 5), combining an existing ensemble of simulations using a coupled fire–dynamic vegetation model with current observation-based estimates of wildfire emissions and simulations with a chemical transport model. Currently, wildfire PM2. 5 emissions exceed those from anthropogenic sources in large parts of the world. We further analyse two extreme sets of future wildfire emissions in a socio-economic, demographic climate change context and compare them to anthropogenic emission scenarios reflecting current and ambitious air pollution legislation. In most regions of the world, ambitious reductions of anthropogenic air pollutant emissions have the potential to limit mean annual pollutant PM2. 5 levels to comply with World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines for PM2. 5. Worst-case future wildfire emissions are not likely to interfere with these annual goals, largely due to fire seasonality, as well as a tendency of wildfire sources to be situated in areas of intermediate population density, as opposed to anthropogenic sources that tend to be highest at the highest population densities. However, during the high-fire season, we find many regions where future PM2. 5 pollution levels can reach dangerous levels even for a scenario of aggressive reduction of anthropogenic emissions.

Citation: Knorr, W., Dentener, F., Lamarque, J.-F., Jiang, L., and Arneth, A.: Wildfire air pollution hazard during the 21st century, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 9223-9236,, 2017.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Wildfires cause considerable air pollution, and climate change is usually expected to increase both wildfire activity and air pollution from those fires. This study takes a closer look at the problem by examining the role of demographic changes in addition to climate change. It finds that demographics will be the main driver of changes in wildfire activity in many parts of the developing world. Air pollution from wildfires will remain significant, with major implications for air quality policy.
Wildfires cause considerable air pollution, and climate change is usually expected to increase...