USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station


Pacific Southwest Research Station
800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011

(510) 559-6300

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Evaluation of prescribed burn impacts on air quality and visibility in the Lake Tahoe Basin

Proposal [pdf]

Lead Researchers:

L.-W. Antony Chen, Desert Research Institute
Mark C. Green, Desert Research Institute


Prescribed burning that is widely used for fuel reduction in the Tahoe Basin potentially impacts air and water quality, visibility, and human exposure of air toxics. A thorough evaluation of this impact has not been achieved due to lack of field measurements for pile/under- burn emissions and spatiotemporal distribution of smoke plumes. This project will employ a unique combination of source and ambient monitoring systems and satellite remote sensing data to address the knowledge gap. Source measurements will yield emission factors of criteria pollutants including particulate matter (PM) and ozone (O3) precursors, as well as particle size distribution, chemical composition, and light extinction coefficient. Ambient PM10/PM2.5 measurements will be made at five sites representative of community exposure in the basin. The prescribed burning impact on air quality/visibility will be linked to burn and meteorological parameters leading to recommendations for future burning strategies (e.g., burn window, season, location [in- and outside the basin], and technique). The project will also establish a procedure to evaluate air quality through satellite data on a routine, cost-effective basis.

Relation to Other Research Including SNPLMA Science Projects

Results from this project are expected to contribute to best management practices (BMPs) for mitigating the environmental impact of prescribed burning. The recently concluded SNPLMA Round 7 science project "Potential nutrient emissions from prescribed fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin," found that air pollutant emission factors were sensitive to fuel type and moisture content. However, that study was based on laboratory burn experiments. This new project focuses on measuring actual burns, providing a validation to the previous results (and emission inventories stemming from them). This project also complements several PM and visibility source apportionment studies conducted in Lake Tahoe, including the Tahoe Source Characterization Study and three SNLPMA Round 10 projects: 1) "Visibility monitoring and standards for Lake Tahoe Basin: assessment of current and alternative approaches," 2) "Lake Tahoe visibility impairment source apportionment analysis," and 3) "Particulate emissions from biomass burning: quantification of the contributions from residential wood combustion, forest fires, and prescribed fires."

Expected date of final products:

July 2014

Last Modified: Nov 12, 2014 03:51:54 PM