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.
The research, directed by Professor Martin Wooster, has led to the development of techniques enabling real-time observations of fires. 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. This is the first system of its kind in Europe.
The 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
“The system will allow scientists to forecast the state of the atmosphere, as well as the weather,” explains Wooster. “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 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 King’s College in this area of environmental science.
“Scientists and academics working in this field around the world have sat up and taken notice of the work that we have been doing,” says Wooster. “Satellite instrument designers, for example, now come to King’s for advice, which is obviously a great endorsement.”