Boise’s Gowen Field is home base to NASA and NOAA’s newest collaborative research project on wildfire smoke and air quality.
Several times a week, teams aboard NASA’s DC-8 research plane fly into wildfire plumes across the western U.S. to collect samples of the smoke.
Barry Lefer is a project manager at NASA. He says the data they get from smoke samples will help improve the accuracy of their air quality prediction models.
“When you're trying to forecast what tomorrow’s air pollution is going to be, you need the satellite to say ‘there's a fire that just started there last night,” Lefer says, “then we can add it to the forecast model, and it can try and predict where the smoke is going to go.”
Current models take NASA’s satellite images of wildfires and existing knowledge of wildfires and smoke to make predictions.
“We want to do a better job on providing advanced notice to the public about the air quality forecast,” Lefer explains.
Specifically, they’re watching the height, spread and chemical makeup of the wildfire smoke to be able to better predict how smoke will travel to – and affect – populated areas.
In a couple weeks, the plane will leave its Boise post for Kansas, where teams will begin more research on agricultural fires.
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