The Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded a three-year, $350,000 grant to a University of Wyoming researcher studying how wildfires in the western U.S. impact climate change.

Shane Murphy, assistant professor in the UW Department of Atmospheric Science, is specifically examining the effects of black and brown carbon emitted from wildfires.

The EPA grant will pay the salaries of two UW graduate students assisting Murphy as well as the costs of deploying the department’s mobile lab to large fires in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Utah over the next two summers.

Murphy’s project, called “Particulate Matter and Related Pollutants,” focuses on the importance of brown carbon and what it does to the climate.

Brown carbon is a tar-like material that produced from smoldering fires. Brown carbon often coats black carbon, also known as soot, formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels or biofuels.

Murphy says there is some evidence that brown carbon is reacted or evaporated away from a fire, but he does not know how quickly the process occurs. It’s just one of the questions he and his team will investigate throughout the study.

“[Brown carbon] might have a quite significant impact on global climate and local climate,” says Murphy.

When the team is not collecting data from wildfires, they will analyze their findings. In the project’s third year, the team will publish their findings in a peer-reviewed paper and present the results at the EPA’s annual meeting.

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