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Project ID: 13-1-01-16

Year: 2013

Date Started: 08/01/2013

Ending Date:  08/31/2017

Title: Assessing the Impacts on Smoke, Fire and Air Quality Due to Changes in Climate, Fuel Loads, and Wildfire Activity Over the Southeastern U.S.

Project Proposal Abstract: An issue of great concern on federal lands is wildland fires, which have steadily increased in frequency and strength over the past few decades as a possible consequence of climate change. Modeling wildfires under an evolving climate is challenging due to disparate spatial and temporal scales involved in characterizing wild fire emissions and in forecasting changes in vegetation and fuel loads in response to both a changing climate and new fire regimes. Many models ignore these changes in future climate regimes, resulting in large uncertainties in predicting future climate impacts on fires, air quality and compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). To address these issues, the University of North CarolinaInstitute for the Environment (UNC-IE) proposes a modeling and analysis study over the Southeastern U.S. (SEUS), a challenging region for managing fires and air quality due to rapid current and projected economic growth, and the fine-scale variability of fire regimes and fuel loads. Significant in-kind support on projecting fuels and fire activity for the study will be provided by Dr. Donald McKenzie, a research ecologist at the Pacific Northwest Station (PNW), and Dr. Jeffrey Prestemon, a research forester at the Southern Research Station (SRS) of the U.S. Forest Service. Downscaled modeling studies are a cost-effective way to address some of the spatial-temporal scale disparities involved in modeling the impacts of climate change on fire regimes, fuel loads and air quality downwind. The project will dynamically downscale climate fields from two IPCC AR5 climate models using the Weather Research and Forecasting model for two Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), and project fuels and fire activity over SEUS using methods developed at PNW and SRS. These projections will be used in the BlueSky modeling framework to model wildfire emissions. Along with anthropogenic emissions from the National Emissions Inventory projected from current to future years for the selected RCPs, they will drive the Community Multiscale Air Quality model in 12 representative annual simulations from 2000-2050 over SEUS. The air quality impacts of wildfire emissions and potential exceedances under a changing climate in the region will be analyzed. We have significant experience modeling air quality and fires in SEUS to address this broad scope cost-effectively. Our project will benefit land and air quality management communities by providing (1) an efficient climate downscaling approach at spatial-temporal scales suited to model fire weather changes in the SEUS from 2000-2050; (2) estimates of changes in live and dead fuel and daily fire activity from current to future climates in SEUS; (3) use of these estimates in SEUS air quality modeling tailored to bracket likely future fire regimes; (4) analyses of the air quality impacts of wildfire emissions relative to the NAAQS in current and future periods, and (5) public release of the data and findings through the Forest Service Research Data Archive (FSRDA) and other forums. Our study will test the following hypotheses: (1) there are significant changes in fire regimes due to changes in fuel that can be correlated to future climate; (2) modeling the spatial and temporal variability of wildfires yields signifi¬cantly different impacts on future-year air quality than does a static spatial distribu¬tion, and (3) these differences can be quantified and used to support air and land management. In the SEUS., interactions among wildfire, prescribed fire, air quality, and the maintenance and restoration of ecological function are especially intense. By using state-of-the-art, publicly available regional-scale climate and air quality models with the most recently developed future climate scenarios, the project will support land and air quality planning at the seasonal to decadal timescales needed for anticipating the different intensity and seasonality of future wildfires.

Principal Investigator: Uma X. Shankar

Agency/Organization: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Branch or Dept: Institute for the Environment

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Brigid H Poole

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Office of Sponsored Research

Budget Contact

Brigid H Poole

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Office of Sponsored Research

Co-Principal Investigator

Zachariah E. Adelman

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Institute for the Environment

Co-Principal Investigator

Jared H. Bowden

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Institute for the Environment


Donald Z. McKenzie

Forest Service

PNW-Seattle-Managing Natural Disturbances


Jeffrey P. Prestemon

Forest Service

SRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Research Triangle Park

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network








Project Deliverables

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Supporting Documents

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