Pronounced increases in nitrogen emissions and deposition due to the historic 2020 wildfires in the western U.S.
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Patrick C. Campbell; Daniel Q. Tong; Rick Saylor; Yunyao Li; Siqi Ma; Xiaoyang Zhang; Shobha Kondragunta; Fangjun Li
Publication Year: 2022

Cataloging Information

  • biomass burning emissions
  • forecast system
  • nitrogen deposition
  • nitrogen emissions
  • wildfires
  • WRF-SMOKE-CMAQ model
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 13, 2022
FRAMES Record Number: 65924


Wildfire outbreaks can lead to extreme biomass burning (BB) emissions of both oxidized (e.g., nitrogen oxides; NOx = NO+NO2) and reduced form (e.g., ammonia; NH3) nitrogen (N) compounds. High N emissions are major concerns for air quality, atmospheric deposition, and consequential human and ecosystem health impacts. In this study, we use both satellite-based observations and modeling results to quantify the contribution of BB to the total emissions, and approximate the impact on total N deposition in the western U.S. Our results show that during the 2020 wildfire season of August–October, BB contributes significantly to the total emissions, with a satellite-derived fraction of NH3 to the total reactive N emissions (median ~ 40%) in the range of aircraft observations. During the peak of the western August Complex Fires in September, BB contributed to ~55% (for the contiguous U.S.) and ~ 83% (for the western U.S.) of the monthly total NOx and NH3 emissions. Overall, there is good model performance of the George Mason University-Wildfire Forecasting System (GMU-WFS) used in this work. The extreme BB emissions lead to significant contributions to the total N deposition for different ecosystems in California, with an average August – October 2020 relative increase of ~78% (from 7.1 to 12.6 kg ha−1 year−1) in deposition rate to major vegetation types (mixed forests + grasslands/shrublands/savanna) compared to the GMU-WFS simulations without BB emissions. For mixed forest types only, the average N deposition rate increases (from 6.2 to 16.9 kg ha−1 year−1) are even larger at ~173%. Such large N deposition due to extreme BB emissions are much larger than low-end critical load thresholds for major vegetation types (e.g., 3 kg ha−1 year−1), and thus may result in adverse N deposition effects across larger areas of lichen communities found in California's mixed conifer forests.

Online Link(s):
Campbell, Patrick C.; Tong, Daniel; Saylor, Rick; Li, Yunyao; Ma, Siqi; Zhang, Xiaoyang; Kondragunta, Shobha; Li, Fangjun. 2022. Pronounced increases in nitrogen emissions and deposition due to the historic 2020 wildfires in the western U.S. Science of The Total Environment 839:156130.