UCR Researcher to Receive Almost $1 Million to Study Biomass Burning

Projected increase in fires underscores need to study the impact on air quality and human health

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Fire activity in the Western United States and Canada has increased over the past 20 years, a trend that is expected to continue. To better understand the impact of biomass burning on the current and future climate system, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans to award two grants totaling nearly $1 million to Kelley Barsanti, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside.

An image of Kelley Barsanti

Kelley Barsanti, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering.

The first project focuses on the nighttime chemistry of biomass burning, including wildfires, agricultural burning and prescribed fires. Barsanti’s group will use high-resolution 2D Gas Chromatography to characterize previously understudied and unidentified organic compounds in the complex mixture of compounds that are emitted and formed in biomass burning plumes. Barsanti said these compounds are important because they are precursors for secondary pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone.

“We are focusing on nighttime burns as a relatively understudied but important aspect of fires. During the night, the temperature falls and the environmental conditions change, so the chemistry in biomass burning plumes will be different too,” said Barsanti, an assistant professor in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering and the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT).

The second project involves improving models that are currently used to predict the impact of biomass burning on air quality, climate change and human health. Barsanti will work with Christine Wiedinmyer, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the principal investigator on the project, and Annmarie Carlton from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“In order for us to make the best use of our measurements, we need to ensure the models we are using are robust and representative of what’s happening in the real world. The ultimate goal is to provide new tools for government agencies that are managing air quality so they can stay in compliance and keep people safe,” she said.

The University of California, Riverside, is a leader in studying chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere, with a focus on biomass burning and emissions. Experts are available for media interviews. Another emissions-related research project was featured recently on UCR Today.

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