Coastwide
This image showing emissions from fires burning on Aug. 19 across the globe was produced based on the current operational algorithm. Professor Xiaoyang Zhang of South Dakota State University’s Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence will improve the accuracy of the global biomass burning emissions model across the contiguous United States through a three-year, $310,000 grant from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Xiaoyang Zhang / South Dakota State University’s Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence

USA - New Satellite Data to Improve Burning Emissions Model

BROOKINGS – Wildfires in California have burned more than 4 million acres to date, more than double the previous record for the most land burned in a single year in the state.

Smoke from these fires has prompted air quality alerts in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado – with plumes reaching as far as the Midwest this summer.

To predict the impact wildfires have on air quality and climate, Professor Xiaoyang Zhang of South Dakota State University’s Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence uses satellite images to model emissions from these fires.

“It’s like a weather forecast, but it impacts human health,” Zhang said. “If an area will be subject to lots of smoke, people who have asthma and other health problems should avoid going outside.”

The data is also beneficial to firefighters and to meteorologists because the emissions affect the weather.

“It improves their capability to make accurate forecasts,” Zhang pointed out. The model also helps track carbon emissions from fires that contribute to global warming.

Zhang began working on global biomass burning emissions from wildfires at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in 2005. Since coming to SDSU in 2013, he has received $1.15 million from NOAA for biomass burning emission and vegetation seasonal dynamics research.  

The biomass burning emissions model calculates how much biomass is burning daily and provides hourly data on the aerosols released from the fires, Zhang explained. NOAA then incorporates the data into regional and global air quality models that forecast where the aerosols will drift and what areas will be affected, nationally and globally.

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