The University of Wyoming will help five universities study how wildfire smoke changes chemically over time.

The groundbreaking study was made possible by a $3.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation Atmospheric Chemistry program, according to a UW news release. UW will partner with Colorado State University, the University of Montana, the University of Washington and the University of Colorado to study the impacts of wildfire smoke on cloud formation and climate.

UW atmospheric science Assistant Professor Shane Murphy, a co-principal investigator of the study, says UW has the task of measuring the optical properties of smoke from wildfires.

“Understanding how much light these particles absorb is critical for understanding their impact on climate, air chemistry and weather,” Murphy says in a statement.

The smoke particles absorb sunlight, Murphy says, which heats the atmosphere and affects the formation of clouds and climate.

Murphy said the research will play a critical role in helping people living in the western U.S. understand how wildfire smoke can impact weather, climate and air quality, which is especially important since the number of wildfires in the west may increase in the future.

The study will use the NSF National Center for Atmospheric Research’s C-130 aircraft to collect data from smoke plumes in summer 2018.

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