NASA study targets northern forest fires

NASA study targets northern forest fires

17June 2008

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The U.S. space agency is set to launch a three-week study into how fires in Canada’s boreal forest contribute to Arctic pollution and affect climate change.

Using satellites, ground observations and high-tech aircraft, NASA will track smoke from fires in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and the three Prairie provinces to better understand the impact on the North, said NASA scientist Hanwant Singh.

“We’re also interested in how these emissions from these fires, how they come out, what they contain and how they’re transported,” Singh said.

With the number of forest fires on the rise, the information from the study is critical, said Brian Stocks, a Canadian forest fire expert who is helping with the project.

For example, soot from forest fires can contribute to the melting of glaciers, sea ice and permafrost, he said.

“With more forest fires in the boreal zone projected, as a major impact of climate change, we’re looking at more smoke in the future in that area,” Stocks said. “So trying to get a handle on just how it affects snow melt gives us a better idea of the pace at which climate change impacts are going to occur in the Arctic.”

More than 100 people will be stationed at the Canadian military based in Cold Lake, Alta., and another dozen will work out of Yellowknife during the course of the study which begins June 29.

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