Ozone levels elevated in presence of wildfire smoke

For those living with the threat to life and property from wildfires, Colorado State University scientists have some more bad news: Wildfire smoke seems to elevate levels of ozone, a nasty air pollutant with proven adverse health effects.

The influence of wildfire smoke on ozone levels during summer months in the United States is not well understood. CSU atmospheric science researchers took a comprehensive, multi-year look at this secondary, insidious effect of raging wildfires. Published in Environmental Science and Technology, the new study quantifies what wildfire smoke does to ozone levels over a nearly 10-year span, integrating data from hundreds of monitoring sites dotting the country.

Across the U.S., ozone levels were higher on smoky days than on smoke-free days, according to the study led by Steven Brey, a graduate student working with Emily Fischer, assistant professor of atmospheric science in CSU’s College of Engineering. According to Brey’s analysis, a number of urban areas had smoke present during 10 percent to 20 percent of days when the standard Environmental Protection Agency ozone levels of 70 parts per billion (ppb) were exceeded. The EPA reset the ozone standard down from 75 ppb late last year, making it more stringent.

Ozone: good up high, bad nearby

Ozone is one of six “criteria pollutants” monitored by the EPA, and its adverse effects particularly on the young, elderly and people with asthma are well documented. “Good up high; bad nearby” is the EPA’s description of ozone — the ozone layer of Earth’s atmosphere protects us from UV radiation from space, but down where we breathe, it damages lungs and destroys crops and ecosystems.

Typically, the effect of smoke on ozone levels is studied on a “plume-by-plume basis,” Fischer explained. “A wildfire will be burning and someone will take an aircraft, like the NSF/NCAR C-130 or the NASA DC-8, fly around in it, and take measurements. What Steve did was take ground-level data … to look nationwide, not just at one fire or one plume, but every ground site from 2005 to 2014.”

Ozone chemistry’s nonlinearity

Predicting the relationship of ozone and wildfire smoke requires an understanding of nonlinear ozone chemistry, which is tricky. In the past, some individually analyzed smoke plumes have been linked to a dramatic production of ozone, Fischer said, but others have seen ozone production actually suppressed within wildfire smoke.

Whether and how much ozone is produced is influenced by many fleeting factors. To make ozone, you need volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide and sunlight, interactions that can be determined by the amount of those chemicals in the air, how much sunlight is getting through the smoke, how hot the fire is burning, what is burning, and other variables. And smoke moves, disperses and becomes dilute over time. It’s really hard to determine how all these factors work together to make, or not make, ozone.

NOAA Hazard Mapping System

Brey gathered data from 2005-2014 from the NOAA Hazard Mapping System, which uses satellites to visually track smoke plumes from areas of open burning. Armed with that data, Brey compared ozone levels on days when smoke was present with days when smoke wasn’t present, and built an expected value of ozone levels for those days. Taken together, on the smoky days, ozone levels were higher.

That effect was marked around certain areas in particular: the Northeast corridor, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Kansas City. “Which is not what you’d expect,” Fischer said, because wildfires don’t necessarily burn near cities. But the data indicate that as the smoke plumes travel, higher levels of ozone can be more often expected in urban than in rural areas.

That observation hints that wildfire smoke interacts with pollutants in urban air to create ozone. The data support the hypothesis, but a definitive claim can’t be made yet.

Climate change to increase wildfire frequency

With climate change predicted to increase overall temperatures and thus the intensity and frequency and wildfires, the study points to more questions about how smoke will affect ozone levels going forward.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Colorado State University. The original item was written by Anne Ju Manning. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Steven J. Brey, Emily V. Fischer. Smoke in the City: How Often and Where Does Smoke Impact Summertime Ozone in the United States?Environmental Science & Technology, 2016; DOI:10.1021/acs.est.5b05218

Indonesia forest fires cost twice as much as tsunami clean-up, says World Bank

Fires cloaking south-east Asia in haze have cost Indonesia $16bn in 2015, more than double the sum spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami

An aerial picture showing deforested land after fires in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Forest fires are an annual occurrence on Sumatra and Borneo but experts said this year’s blazes have been especially bad because of the El Nino weather phenomenon.
An aerial picture showing deforested land after fires in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Forest fires are an annual occurrence on Sumatra and Borneo but experts said this year’s blazes have been especially bad because of the El Nino weather phenomenon. Photograph: Bagus Indahono/EPA

The fires and resulting haze are an annual occurrence caused by slash-and-burn land clearance. But the blazes in 2015 were the worst for some years, causing air quality to worsen dramatically and many to fall ill across the region.

In a quarterly update on the Indonesian economy, the World Bank said the fires had devastated 2.6 million hectares (6.4m acres) of forest and farmland across the archipelago from June to October.

The cost to south-east Asia’s biggest economy is estimated at 221 trillion rupiah ($16.1bn), equivalent to 1.9% of predicted GDP this year, it said.

In contrast, it cost $7bn to rebuild Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh after it was engulfed 11 years ago by a quake-triggered tsunami, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives, the bank said.

“The economic impact of the fires has been immense,” said World Bank Indonesia country director Rodrigo Chaves.

Fire has long been a popular way of quickly and cheaply clearing land on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations.

But the fires burn out of control and produce noxious haze during the months-long dry season, particularly when started on carbon-rich peatland.

The World Bank said that if every hectare burned in 2015 were converted to palm oil, the value would be about $8bn. Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of the oil, used in numerous everyday goods from biscuits to shampoo.

“So on the one hand 16 billion dollars cost to the public, on the other hand, eight billion dollars – lots of money – to a handful of individuals,” said World Bank environmental specialist Ann Jeannette Glauber.

The estimated costs are based on an analysis of the types of land burned and take into account the impact on agriculture, forestry, trade, tourism and transportation, as well as short-term effects of the haze such as school closures and on health.

More than half a million people suffered acute respiratory infections in Indonesia, while many in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia also fell ill.

4 ways to STOP Indonesia’s forest fires

Blogpost by Bustar Maitar – 2 November, 2015 at 12:405 comments

A brief spell of rainfall in Indonesia has minimised the number of fire hotspots that have been broadcasting toxic smoke across the country…for now. Here are four ways to #StoptheHaze…once and for all.

13-year old sister holds her 7-month old brother who is suffering from a respiratory tract infection13-yr old sister holds her 7-mth old brother who is suffering a respiratory tract infection

It’s been labelled a “crime against humanity”. The “biggest environmental crime of the 21st century”, and most certainly the “worst climate crisis in the world right now.”

Since August, forests have been set alight to make way for plantations – a practice that has been happening for decades. But this year’s El Nino means that conditions are extra dry, leaving toxic smoke to lay and linger. To make matters worse, about half of these fires are taking place on peatlands, which are a major global carbon storehouse. In recent days, the rate of carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires has outstripped the entire US economy.

Brief rainfall this week in Sumatra and Kalimantan has provided modest relief, but the crisis is far from over. The fires and smoke will return so long as companies are destroying forests and draining peatlands, and the government is lax on enforcing its policies. Here’s how we can stop this devastating disaster…once and for all.

Military help extinguish the fire of burning peatland inside the Orangutan conservation area in Kapuas district, Central Kalimantan province, Borneo island, Indonesia
Military help extinguish the fire of burning peatland

1. Stop forest clearance…NOW!

FACT: stopping forest destruction is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to prevent catastrophic climate change. It’s estimated that this year’s haze will cost Indonesia’s economy US $14 billion.

All agricultural commodity suppliers must immediately stop forest clearance and any further development on peatland; they must be monitored and held accountable for any potentially dangerous and illegal activities.

A couple guard their rubber tree plantation to make sure it doesn't catch fireA couple guard their rubber tree plantation to make sure it doesn’t catch fire

2. Re-flood, repair, regenerate

Last year, President Jokowi vowed to protect peatlands and showed his solidarity by damming a canal to stop the drainage of a peat forest in Sumatra. Since then, the area has hardly been affected by this season’s fires.

Last week he repeated the same vow, calling for a moratorium on licensing for peatland concessions after at least 10 people died due to respiratory illnesses caused by the smoke. It’s time for President Jokowi to stick to his promise.

Re-flooding and implementing other water management measures in critical peatland areas can sharply reduce fire risks – a solution Greenpeace has proposed for years.

Firefighters extinguishes the fire of burning peatland Firefighters extinguishes the fire of burning peatland 

3. We know what you did last summer…and we have the maps to prove it

Greenpeace researchers looked at 112,000 fire hotspots recorded from August 1 to October 26, 2015, which showed nearly 40 percent of fires had occurred inside mapped concessions: land granted by the Indonesian government to companies for logging or plantation development.

There are many concessions where fire hotspots are indicated in mapping analysis, but our research also indicates that the company associated with the most is Asia Pulp & Paper.

This is not surprising. Firstly, they are the largest concession holder in Indonesia and have a legacy of deforestation. Secondly, they are the only company that has released accurate maps showing where their own, as well as their suppliers concessions are.

However, the government has recently refused Greenpeace’s request to make public the latest concession maps for analysis. Other companies have released very little information about their land holdings and the concessions that supply them, which makes you wonder – what do they have to hide?

A hornbill is seen from a tree where the air is engulfed with thick hazeA hornbill is seen from a tree where the air is engulfed with thick haze

4. Fight fire…by working together

The only way to stop these fires is to stop deforestation. Greenpeace is calling for palm oil and paper companies to join forces and enforce a total ban on forest clearance and peatland development in Indonesia. Companies could make this happen. After all, if corporations have the ability to destroy the world’s forests, they also have the power to help save them.

Want to help #StoptheHaze once and for all? Take action and sign up here.

Bustar Maitar is Head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Indonesia May Take Up to a Decade to Curb Annual Land Fires

ndonesia may take as long as a decade to permanently curb the plantation land-burning that sends choking smog across swathes of Southeast Asia each year, according to a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University.

Although Indonesia has ratified a regional agreement committing it to act to reduce the smoke “haze” caused by the land fires, the law has yet to be enacted locally in its districts, said Jonatan Anderias Lassa, a research fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the Singapore university.

“They need to bring down that law into local legislative processes,” Lassa told reporters in Singapore on Monday, adding that a division of resources between central and local governments was also required. “It hasn’t been done, and it takes five to 10 years to do that.”

Exacerbated by dry conditions from the El Nino weather phenomenon, this year’s haze is among the worst on record. Stinging smoke from the illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations have blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for over a month. Besides prompting school closures and disrupting sea and air travel in the region, the smog has also forced some in Indonesia to flee their homes.

Lassa estimates that an initial investment of $10 to $20 million could help the Indonesian government kick start the enactment of locally relevant legislation in the 211 affected districts on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Climate Change

With the haze crisis engulfing Indonesia, President Joko Widodo met Barack Obama at the White House on Monday. Climate change was one of the items on their discussion agenda, Widodo told reporters in Washington after the meeting.

The forest fires have forced Widodo to shorten his U.S. trip. He had scheduled stops on the West Coast later this week to meet with officials from Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc., according to Indonesian officials. Widodo now plans to return home Tuesday.

The three-hourly air pollution index in Singapore was 131 at 9 a.m. local time. Readings exceeding 100 are classified as “unhealthy,” as the government advises people to reduce prolonged outdoor activities.

Singapore’s the National Environment Agency said it detected at least 11 so-called hotspots in Sumatra and 84 in Kalimantan on Monday. “Moderate to dense haze is still persisting in parts of central and southern Sumatra and Kalimantan,” it said.

Indonesia Says Tough to Set Haze Deadline With Fires, Weather

Indonesia, which set a deadline two weeks ago to put out forest fires that have covered parts of Southeast Asia with haze, said it’s difficult to push for a timeline with farmers still burning to clear land and unpredictable weather patterns.

“I can’t give a date,” said Willem Rampangilei, head of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Authority. “It depends on the weather. I will try my hardest and try to be as quick as possible.”

President Joko Widodo’s recent trip to Sumatra island for a progress check was cut short as the smoke was so thick his plane couldn’t land, forcing him back to the capital.

Exacerbated by dry conditions from El Nino, the haze has blown across Southeast Asia, blanketing Singapore, parts of Indonesia and Malaysia in a smog that has caused these areas to close schools and suspend outdoor events. In parts of Indonesia, people were forced to flee their homes.

“One challenge is that farmers are still burning,” Rampangilei said. “We all know that burning is cheap and makes the soil more fertile.”

Open to Help

Indonesia has threatened to punish the palm oil and other plantation companies whose land is ablaze and send soldiers in to help fight the fires. The country has turned down offers from Singapore and Malaysia to help, in part because its own helicopters couldn’t take off because of the smoke.

“We are not allergic to outside help,” Rampangilei said. “We are happy to get offers. But we have to see how much that assistance can actually be deployed.”

In Singapore, a banking group has embarked on a review of ethical lending practices as the haze envelops the city for a fifth week. The Association of Banks in Singapore said Monday its members are working on measures that will improve responsible lending, without spelling out specifics, while the central bank said those guidelines will be issued “soon.” Only four major banks in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have embedded environmental factors as part of their credit-decision process, the World Wildlife Fund said in a May report.

Jokowi’s maneuverability is limited by a decentralized system of government put in place in 2001 in the world’s largest archipelago that has coalesced power around local officials and potentially made it harder to tackle corruption on the ground. There’s also been little effort over the years to address a complex system of overlapping land permits where forest is illegally burned to claim ownership and increase the value to sell for plantations.

South East Asia’s haze – social media reacts

The Haze – annual air pollution caused by forest burning in Indonesia – is back across parts of South East Asia, and social media has once again been flooded with complaints about the filthy skies.

From memes to citizen campaigns, Facebook and Twitter users in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have not held back when discussing rising pollution levels.

“Guess who’s back, back again – the haze is back, tell your friends,” commented a Twitter user in the Malaysian capital city, Kuala Lumpur, putting a smoggy spin on an Eminem song.

Another musically inspired tweeter made reference to Jimi Hendrix’s famous rock anthem ‘Purple Haze‘.

Purple Haze all in my brain, lately things don't seem the same, actin' funny but I don't know why..Image copyright@steve_sps

Other users, however, made light of the situation by sharing jokes and memes.

The haze will turn your sashimi into smoked salmonImage copyright@JoachimGomez

“The haze will turn your sashimi into smoked salmon,” tweeted Singaporean radio personality Joakhim Gomez.

One rather cute meme being shared widely on Facebook, the most popular social media site in Indonesia and Singapore, showed a “fiery birthday celebration”between the countries’ flags, with Indonesia ignoring pleas to blow out the increasingly violent looking flames of its birthday candles.

Meme about the hazeImage copyrightSocial media

The meme also proved highly popular on Twitter – although it is not clear who created it.

‘Burning haze’

For many years, the annual smog been at the centre of heated diplomatic debate between Indonesia and Singapore.

Singapore has confronted Indonesia about the burning of land for palm oil plantations in Sumatra.

Indonesia, however, has argued that it is unfair to blame it alone for the forest fires.It named Singaporean firms earlier this year it said had roles in contributing to the pollution.

Firemen work to contain burning wildfires in South Sumatra, Indonesia on Saturday, 5 September, 2015Image copyrightAP
Image captionEvery year, Indonesian forest fires affect those in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia

Some citizens of both countries have launched online campaigns to combat the haze.

Indonesian cartoonist Dhany Pramata, 23, shared a drawing on Twitter using the hashtag #masihmelawanasap [‘Still fighting the haze’] to emphasise that there was still “no concrete solution” to the problem.

The hashtag was also used more than 1,300 times on popular photo-sharing app Instagram.

“It has been two months. I can smell the burning haze, I’ve suffered from dizziness, eye irritation, out of breath even inside the house,” Mr Pramata told the BBC’s Indonesian Service.

‘We breathe what we buy’

A Facebook page from Singapore also called on people there to acknowledge responsibility for the air pollution.

Facebook pageImage copyrightFacebook

“It’s the usual blame game between farmers and officials, politicians and other politicians. So we decided to help instead of just complaining about why it started,” said 30-year-old financial consultant Tan Yi Han from Singapore.

Together with a group of friends, Mr Tan started an online campaign in 2014, accompanied by a dedicated Facebook page called, “The People’s Movement to Stop Haze”.

“We realised that we as Singaporeans, must do something about palm oil and paper as we use both on a daily basis. So we breathe what we buy,” Mr Tan told the BBC.

The Facebook page aims to share haze-related articles and also gathers pledges of support for sustainable palm oil.

“During the haze period, there is always a lot of chatter on social media. We wanted to actively respond to all these emotions, frustrations and uncertainties so we use Facebook to share what we know and re-direct them to our campaign.”

Reporting by Heather Chen in Singapore and Christine Franciska in Jakarta.

Indonesia’s Largest Island Has Been Engulfed in a Thick Haze Caused by Forest Fires

The seasonal problem has been exacerbated by illegal land clearances

A thick layer of smog from forest fires is suffocating large swaths of Indonesia’s largest island of Sumatra as well as parts of neighboring Malaysia and the affluent city-state of Singapore.

Blazes have intensified over the past two weeks in Riau province on Sumatra’s central eastern coast, leaving tens of thousands ill. Schools have been shuttered and flights canceled, with residents forced to wear face masks to guard against respiratory problems.

Hundreds gathered Tuesday morning in Riau’s capital city Pekanbaru, where officials have issued a state of emergency, and were seen crying and praying for rain in front of the governor’s office. Fires and thick smog also blighted the Kalimantan provinces of Indonesian Borneo.

Aircraft are dropping water bombs to smother still blazing forest fires, while officials are also using “cloud-seeding” to chemically induce rain.

On Friday, the Jakarta government sent more than 1,000 troops to fight the blazing fires in southern Sumatra, Reuters reports.

Nevertheless, air quality continues to deteriorate and remains at hazardous levels. More than 22,500 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been recorded in southern Sumatra with 100,000 in East Kalimantan province.

The haze has spread across the region, and fears are mounting that the upcoming Grand Prix in Singapore this weekend might be called off. More than 1.5 million students have been sent home from school closures in Malaysia.

The fires are a seasonal phenomenon over much of Southeast Asia owing to traditional “slash and burn” agriculture techniques, though environmentalists say the problem has been exacerbated by illegal land clearances to make way for lucrative paper and palm oil plantations.

“The key point is that the fire and haze problem in Indonesia is complex, with multiple actors playing a role,” ecologist Erik Meijaard wrote in the Jakarta Globe. “Anyone who has ever spent time in Kalimantan or Sumatra during the dry season knows that burning land for agriculture, for hunting, or just for fun is a favorite pastime of many.”

Civil activists in Pekanbaru used drone footage to produce a video that highlights the scale of the haze.