About the Author: Sarah Goldfarb serves as DipNote's Associate Editor. Sarah will be providing information from presentations about key climate programs and scientific research at the U.S. Center at the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-16) in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 through December 10, 2010.
Fires are a global phenomenon. As temperatures have increased, fires have become prevalent. In his presentation at the U.S. Center at COP-16, Wei Min Hao of the U.S. Forest Service described how his team is working to understand how fires worldwide affect air quality and the climate.
Wei Min Hao, who was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, discussed how air quality is directly related to the climate. He said that fires emit greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, and unlike fossil fuels, fires are an incomplete combustion so they actually produce even more pollutants than fossil fuels. Zhilian Zhu of the U.S. Geological Survey said that the annual number of fires and the area burned during those fires have increased since 2000. In fact, the United States spends over $1 billion on fires each year.
In the U.S. Forest Service's Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana, Wei Min Hao studies satellite images to develop an air quality forecast model to assess the impact of fires on regional air quality. In the future, his team's research will finish developing a database of daily emission rates of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane from fires in North America from 2001 to 2010. His team is also working to determine the driving factors for the frequency of fires, the area burned, and the smoke emissions.
He said that fires are global issues, and the increasing number and frequency of fires are major challenges for the climate. While fires are unpredictable, he hopes that his research will be able to change that. Wei Min Hao said, “To predict the future, we need to study the past.”
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