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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 18, issue 9 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 6585-6599, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 08 May 2018

Research article | 08 May 2018

Meteorological controls on atmospheric particulate pollution during hazard reduction burns

Giovanni Di Virgilio1, Melissa Anne Hart1,2, and Ningbo Jiang3 Giovanni Di Virgilio et al.
  • 1Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia
  • 2Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia
  • 3New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney, 2000, Australia

Abstract. Internationally, severe wildfires are an escalating problem likely to worsen given projected changes to climate. Hazard reduction burns (HRBs) are used to suppress wildfire occurrences, but they generate considerable emissions of atmospheric fine particulate matter, which depend upon prevailing atmospheric conditions, and can degrade air quality. Our objectives are to improve understanding of the relationships between meteorological conditions and air quality during HRBs in Sydney, Australia. We identify the primary meteorological covariates linked to high PM2.5 pollution (particulates  < 2.5µm in diameter) and quantify differences in their behaviours between HRB days when PM2.5 remained low versus HRB days when PM2.5 was high. Generalised additive mixed models were applied to continuous meteorological and PM2.5 observations for 2011–2016 at four sites across Sydney. The results show that planetary boundary layer height (PBLH) and total cloud cover were the most consistent predictors of elevated PM2.5 during HRBs. During HRB days with low pollution, the PBLH between 00:00 and 07:00LT (local time) was 100–200m higher than days with high pollution. The PBLH was similar during 10:00–17:00LT for both low and high pollution days, but higher after 18:00LT for HRB days with low pollution. Cloud cover, temperature and wind speed reflected the above pattern, e.g. mean temperatures and wind speeds were 2°C cooler and 0.5ms−1 lower during mornings and evenings of HRB days when air quality was poor. These cooler, more stable morning and evening conditions coincide with nocturnal westerly cold air drainage flows in Sydney, which are associated with reduced mixing height and vertical dispersion, leading to the build-up of PM2.5. These findings indicate that air pollution impacts may be reduced by altering the timing of HRBs by conducting them later in the morning (by a matter of hours). Our findings support location-specific forecasts of the air quality impacts of HRBs in Sydney and similar regions elsewhere.

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Short summary
Hazard reduction burns (HRBs) may prevent wildfires, but both generate PM2.5 air pollution. We identify the meteorological factors linked to high PM2.5 pollution & assess how they differ between HRB days with low vs. high PM2.5. Boundary layer, cloud cover, temperature & wind speed strongly influence PM2.5, with these factors being more variable & higher in magnitude during mornings & evenings of HRB days when PM2.5 remains low, indicating how HRB timing can be altered to reduce air pollution.
Hazard reduction burns (HRBs) may prevent wildfires, but both generate PM2.5 air pollution. We...