Assessing the impact of forest fires
Pioneering work by a team at King’s Geography department is helping to assess the impact of forest and grassland fires on the atmosphere – delivering significant benefits to scientists, the emergency services and the general public.
Collaborating with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, UK Met Office and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites a team led by Professor Martin Wooster from the Department of Geography have developed a product able to provide real-time generation of biomass burning smoke emission estimates.
These techniques use a European meteorological satellite to detect and measure heat emissions from fires in Europe, Africa and parts of South America, and then infer smoke emission rates. The data obtained from such measurements are contributing to the development of a European system that will provide operational monitoring and short-term forecasting of atmospheric composition, including the effect of fires and smoke emissions on air quality. The new system will provide updates every few hours on how the smoke from fires is spreading, how concentrated it is and where it is likely to be in the next few hours or days. These forecasts will be available to anyone who wants them, via a dedicated website, www.gmes-atmosphere.eu. This is the first system of its kind in Europe.
The system will allow scientists to forecast the state of the atmosphere, as well as the weather. As a result, the general public and health services will gain invaluable warning about significant decreases in air quality due to the smoke emitted by fires that may be burning as much as a thousand kilometres away, and take appropriate action. This would be particularly useful, for example, for sufferers of asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Another application of the system will be to support monitoring and policy development relating to transboundary air-pollution events within Europe, and to help scientists and policy makers gain a greater understanding of the carbon cycle and greenhouse-gas sources and sinks.
The work of Professor Wooster, his team and collaborators, was recognised by a London Development Agency Knowledge Transfer Award in 2008 and two King’s Awards in 2007 and 2009. This has had a significant impact on the reputation of the College in this area of environmental science such that satellite instrument designers now come to King’s for advice.