Wyomingites are no stranger to wildfire smoke. Wildfires and the subsequent smoke are an annual occurrence in the area, the Badger Creek Fire burning in the Medicine Bow National Forest since June 10 being a recent example.

Shane Murphy, a UW Department of Atmospheric Science assistant professor, is setting out to learn more about how that smoke affects air quality, climate and weather this summer as part of a comprehensive study that includes Murphy’s research group, UW says.

Murphy is a co-principal investigator for the Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption and Nitrogen, or WE-CAN, UW says. The study, which began Sunday, July 22 and will run until August 31 is based in Boise, Idaho.

The study will be led by principal investigators from UW, Colorado State University, the University of Washington, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Montana. Collaborators include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

The major objectives of the study are to identify and quantify emissions from wildfires in Western states and understand how smoke plumes evolve during the first 24 hours of a fire. Murphy’s group will investigate how smoke particles interact with light, which has an impact of local weather and global climate.

“We have some cutting-edge instrumentation that has been developed in-house here at UW by a collaboration of my group, the UW-King Air Engineering Group and NOAA,” Murphy says in a statement. “One of our instruments actually records the sound that particles make when you hit them with a laser. This would seem to be kind of a ridiculous thing to do on a very noisy plane, but it turns out to be one of the only ways to figure out how much light these particles absorb and how much they heat up the atmosphere.”

Researchers will also document the emissions and evolution of air pollutants in smoke plumes. Research has shown that exposure to wildfire smoke is associated with adverse health effects for the general public.

In addition to Murphy’s team, UW’s King Air research aircraft is also in Idaho for a related project called BB-FLUX. That project, led by University of Colorado Professor Rainer Volkamer, will study wildfire emissions and the chemistry of secondary smoke plumes in an effort to quantify the emissions to improve the accuracy of computer models.

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