UoW King Air and NCAR C-130 Study Wildfire Smoke

UW’s King Air research aircraft was used to study a massive wildfire in Idaho in 2016. It has returned to that state for a project to measure and analyze wildfire smoke. (Nick Guy Photo)

In recent years, smoke from wildfires has blanketed many states in the West, and Wyoming is no exception. But exactly how that smoke affects air quality, climate and weather is the subject of a comprehensive study this summer that includes University of Wyoming Assistant Professor Shane Murphy’s research group.

Murphy, who is a part of the Department of Atmospheric Science in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, is a co-principal investigator for the Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption and Nitrogen, or WE-CAN (www.eol.ucar.edu/field_projects/we-can). The study aims to better understand the chemistry of wildfire smoke. It takes place from July 22-Aug. 31 and is based in Boise, Idaho.

“This project grew out of a discussion we had during a tour of the UW flight facility that we gave Dr. Emily Fischer from CSU when she was here visiting for a seminar,” Murphy says. “It’s really amazing how much it expanded into a comprehensive study, from which we’ll learn a ton.”

The NSF/NCAR C-130. Image WE-CAN.

“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. “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.”

Research has indicated exposure to wildfire smoke is associated with adverse health effects for the general public. In this project, researchers will document the emissions and evolution of air pollutants in smoke plumes.

The aircraft used for the July 22-Aug. 31 flights will be the NCAR C-130 but UW’s King Air research aircraft also is in Idaho for a related project called BB-FLUX, led by Professor Rainer Volkamer of the University of Colorado. It studies wildfire emissions and the chemistry of secondary smoke plumes in an effort to quantify the emissions to improve the accuracy of computer models.

UoW King Air 200T. Image by UoW.

The King Air plane also is equipped with a suite of instruments to measure aerosols, chemistry and cloud microphysics. Housed in UW’s Donald L. Veal Research Flight Center, Wyoming King Air is the only NSF-supported aircraft facility owned by a university. It is being used this summer through Sept. 22, with the expectation that it will fly 25 times for a total of 112 hours for the BB-FLUX project.

UW’s aircraft, along with the NCAR C-130, will be featured during a public open house Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Boise Airport. At the open house, visitors will have the opportunity to board both aircraft; learn about the impacts wildfires have on the environment and public health; and talk with mission scientists, engineers and other project staff.

(Press Release: University of Wyoming)

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