NASA declares Canadian forest fire smoke study a success

NASA declares Canadian forest fire smoke study a success

11 July 2008

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USA — Scientists with NASA say their airborne pollution study on the impact of boreal forest fires in the Canadian Arctic went better than expected, and they hope to produce preliminary results in the fall.

More than 120 NASA researchers have been based in Cold Lake, Alta., for the research project over the last two weeks, with another dozen scientists stationed in Yellowknife. Their field work wraps up this weekend.

Both teams have been using satellites and airplanes fitted with science laboratories to track smoke emissions and other pollutants as they travel across the North from Canadian boreal forest fires.

Most of the fires NASA observed were in northern Saskatchewan, allowing planes at the Cold Lake station to track smoke from those fires quickly and gather data on how the smoke plumes chemically change as they drift across the Arctic.

“Things have gone better than we could have expected. It was ideal that the fires were located in the region, just to the northeast of where we are here in Cold Lake,” James Crawford, the head of NASA’s tropospheric chemistry program, told CBC News on Thursday from the Alberta base.

“So in that case, we were conducting science flights that only took 30 to 45 minutes to get to the area of active fires, meaning we could use most of our time in the air actually sampling the [emissions] of interest.”

NASA has also been keeping an eye on fires in Siberia. This week, scientists flew to Thule, Greenland, then up the Arctic Ocean to test smoke from Siberian wildfires as it travelled over the North Pole and into northern Canada.

“We were watching that smoke by satellite and waiting for it to get over the Canadian Arctic so that we could sample it when it was close enough,” said Brian Stocks, a retired Canadian fire researcher working on the project.

“So you have the benefit of having six-day-old smoke come to you.”

Crawford said researchers are looking “at the greatest detail ever” at the chemistry of those smoke plumes as well as what is coming out of them.

The current research has given them their first chance to be “really able to understand what makes up these emissions from the fires,” he said.

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