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Picture of the Day

Scientists fly above wildfires this summer to clarify chemistry of smoke

This summer, a four-engine cargo plane laden with scientists and sophisticated equipment will make flights straight into hazy smoke from Western wildfires. The flights will be the largest, most comprehensive attempt to date to measure and analyze the wildfire smoke that blankets vast swaths of the U.S. every year. From late July through August, a team of scientists will travel to Boise, Idaho, to conduct 15 to 20 smoke observation flights. The project is called the "Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption and Nitrogen," or WE-CAN, and is supported by the National Science Foundation. The researchers will attempt to answer such questions as: What is the smoke made of? How does it change over time, and as it travels? How does it affect clouds? How does the type and growth of the forest affect the composition of smoke produced? How does the smoke chemistry of hot-burning fires compare to that of lower-temperature, smoldering fires? Answering these and other questions could have major ramifications for studies of air quality, health, nutrient cycles, weather and climate. The WE-CAN researchers hope to contribute to science in all these areas with the data they'll collect this summer.

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