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Data From Arizona's Woodbury Wildfire Analyzed In Climate Change Study

By Ron Dungan
Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2020 - 7:28am
Updated: Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - 12:34pm

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woodbury fire
Woodbury Fire on June 10, 2019.

A group of New Mexico scientists says that wildfire smoke may contribute less to climate change than previously thought.

The researchers examined data from an Arizona wildfire, the Woodbury Fire, which burned more than 123,000 acres in the Superstition Mountains in 2019. It was the sixth largest wildfire in Arizona history. The smoke drifted for miles. 

Winds carried particles and gases over Los Alamos National Laboratory, which researchers captured and analyzed.

Some particles can reflect light, which helps cool the atmosphere. Others can absorb light, which has a warming effect. 

“And so we’re trying to better understand some of these properties of brown carbon, try to put limits on how much light it can absorb or how efficiently it absorbs light, versus how much of the light it scatters,” said James Lee, the lead author of the study.  

The study found that smoke plumes are complex and can change over time. 

The particles, known as aerosols, take many forms and may change as they are exposed to oxygen or light, which makes it difficult to predict how they will affect climate.  

“We’d like to eventually generalize, to say, that the properties of this brown carbon that we see in the Woodbury smoke, is typical of all fires, but we know that’s not necessarily the case,” Lee said. 

Science Climate Change