Wind erosion of soils burned by wildfire contributes substantial particulate matter (PM) in the form of dust to the atmosphere, but the magnitude of this dust source is largely unknown. It is important to accurately quantify dust emissions because they can impact human health, degrade visibility, exacerbate dust-on-snow issues (including snowmelt timing, snow chemistry, and avalanche danger), and affect ecological and biogeochemical cycles, precipitation regimes, and the Earth’s radiation budget. We used a novel modeling approach in which local-scale winds were used to drive a high-resolution dust emission model parameterized for burned soils to provide a first estimate of post-fire PM emissions. The dust emission model was parameterized with dust flux measurements from a 2010 fire scar. Here we present a case study to demonstrate the ability of the modeling framework to capture the onset and dynamics of a post-fire dust event and then use the modeling framework to estimate PM emissions from burn scars left by wildfires in U.S. western sagebrush landscapes during 2012. Modeled emissions from 1.2 million ha of burned soil totaled 32.1 Tg (11.7-352 Tg) of dust as PM10 and 12.8 Tg (4.68-141 Tg) as PM2.5. Despite the relatively large uncertainties in these estimates and a number of underlying assumptions, these first estimates of annual post-fire dust emissions suggest that post-fire PM emissions could substantially increase current annual PM estimates in the U.S. National Emissions Inventory during high fire activity years. Given the potential for post-fire scars to be a large source of PM, further on-site PM flux measurements are needed to improve emission parameterizations and constrain these first estimates.
Wagenbrenner, N. S.; Chung, S. H.; Lamb, B. K. 2017 A large source of dust missing in particulate matter emission inventories Wind erosion of post-fire landscapes. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. 5: 2.