Sound the Alarm: Oregon Wildfires Take a Toll on Public Health

EarthzineOriginal, Spring 2013 VPS

Map of Oregon showing areas affected by wildfires. Credit: DEVELOP
Map of Oregon showing areas affected by wildfires. Credit: DEVELOP

Image Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Stephen Quinn, Zachary Toll, Amanda Gray, Marlene Lichty, Carrea Dye, Brittany Parsons

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA DEVELOP)

Team Location: Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia

Abstract: The Western United States has experienced numerous wildfires, burning millions of acres of land and adversely impacting regional air quality. The federal government spends billions of dollars each year mitigating wildfires. While they are hazardous to local ecosystems, fires also increase the amounts of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and ozone in the air. Using the Hybrid Single Particle Langrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model, the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership (NPP) Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor, and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite, the team conducted vertical and horizontal remote-sensing analyses to produce trajectories of aerosols, including particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and carbon monoxide after the Pole Creek fire in Central Oregon. NOAA’s plume density forecasts and historical wildfire data were used to assess the adverse health effects that developed from the unsatisfactory air quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) readings and relevant public health records from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were combined to evaluate the impact these wildfires had on the health of nearby Oregon communities. Secondarily, Normalized Burn Ratios (NBRs) were constructed by differentiating pre- and post-fire burn scars for the region. The team broadened the previous study area, which focused on the Barry Point Fire and the Long Draw Fire from DEVELOP’s Western Disasters team, to include the fire in Pole Creek, Oregon, and updated the methodologies previously employed by creating a comprehensive video tutorial.