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Wildfire Smoke Study Includes UW Atmospheric Science Faculty

May 15, 2017
airplane taking off
The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) C-130 aircraft will be used in UW’s wildfire smoke study. (NCAR Photo)

The University of Wyoming is among five universities involved in a groundbreaking study about the effects of wildfire smoke.

Announced in April, the partnership among the schools will use a $3.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Atmospheric Chemistry program. The aim of the study is to gather comprehensive data to understand how wildfire smoke changes chemically over time. Along with UW and Colorado State University (CSU, which serves as the lead), other institutions involved include the University of Montana, University of Washington and University of Colorado.

UW atmospheric science Assistant Professor Shane Murphy serves as a co-principal investigator of the study. CSU’s Emily Fisher is the lead principal investigator.

“UW’s role will be to measure the optical properties of the aerosol emissions (smoke) from the fires,” Murphy says. “Understanding how much light these particles absorb is critical for understanding their impact on climate, air chemistry and weather.”

He says the particulate emissions absorb sunlight, which heats the atmosphere and impacts cloud formation and climate.

“Our observations will enable better representation of wildfire emissions in models and can lead to improved satellite retrievals of wildfire emissions,” Murphy adds. “Wildfires in the western U.S. may increase in the future, and understanding the impact they have on climate, weather and air quality will be critical for people living in the West.”

Research indicates that states such as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado account for nearly 40 percent of the burned area in the lower 48 states. The impact of smoke can be pronounced for local areas and also affect air quality in every region in the U.S.

Data will be collected from smoke plumes in summer 2018 with the use of the NSF National Center for Atmospheric Research’s C-130 aircraft.

For more information, call Murphy at (307) 766-6408 or email

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