LANL scientists study impact of wildfires on health, environment | KOB 4

LANL scientists study impact of wildfires on health, environment

Brett Luna
Updated: September 07, 2020 05:22 PM
Created: September 07, 2020 03:29 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —The wildfires burning across the western United States have been sending smoke across New Mexico.  Scientists at Los Alamos National Lab wanted to take a closer look, so they turned on their aerosol-gas forensics instruments.

"Serendipitously to our surprise, one hour later the Medio Fire started by lightning,” said Manvendra Dubey, who runs the Laboratory’s Center for Aerosol-gas Forensics.


These scientists were able to track the Medio Fire from the start. The fire began in a dense, dry forest and spread rapidly.  It put out black smoke for a few days.

"The way we measured the fire growth was by measuring black carbon in our lab,” Dubey said.

A few days later when fire fighters started to get a handle on the fire the smoke turned white. One of the goals for these Los Alamos scientists is to find out how much the smoke from fires impacts climate. 

"Soot is black, it absorbs sunlight, so it actually does like CO2.  It does have a warming effect on climate by absorbing sunlight in this case.  Smoke that is white, the smoldering fires, scatters sunlight and has a cooling effect on climate,” said Dubey.

Dubey said they’re also studying how the smoke affects people.

"Health and safety.  We're very interested in the toxicity of ultrafine particles, particularly from fires and even more from urban wildland interface fires,” he said. 

The Medio Fire is 90% contained after burning nearly 4,000 acres.

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