Effects of climate change on wildfires and future air quality.

  • In a Nutshell:
    Harvard atmospheric chemists Dominick Spracklen, Loretta Mickley, and Jennifer Logan investigated the impact of climate change on wildfire activity and air quality in the western United States for the 2000 to 2050 time period. They found that rising temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains could increase the area burned by wildfires in these regions by as much as 75-175% by mid-century. Spracklen and co-workers also calculated that one important type of smoke particle -- organic carbon aerosols -- could increase by about 40 percent averaged over the West, with implications for human health and visibility.

  • Paper in press
    D.V. Spracklen, L. J. Mickley, J. A. Logan. R. C. Hudman, R. Yevich, M. D. Flannigan, and A. L. Westerling, Impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States, J. Geophys. Res., 2009.

  • Press releases
    Harvard press release
    AGU press release

  • Graphics (jpeg format)
    1. Percent increase in area burned by wildfires in the western United States, from the present-day to the 2050s.
    2. Percent increase in organic carbon aerosol at the surface over the West, from the present-day to the 2050s.

    Captions for graphics

  • Media response
    Science in action: Wildfires, BBC World Service. Listen to Dominick beginning around minute 6!
    Forecast: more air pollution, Billings Gazette
    More wildfires, more bad air, Los Angeles Times
    West to get more wildfires, worse air, Los Angeles Times
    FAQ: The science and history of wildfires, LiveScience
    Global warming adding fuel to wildfires, Voice of America
    Wildfires may impact air quality, damage lungs, Discovery Channel
    Global warming = Smoky summers for US Northwest, Inside Science News Service, American Institute of Physics
    Scientists expect wildfires to increase as climate warms in coming decades, Science Daily
    Wildfires set to increase 50 percent by 2050, Physorg.com
    Study: Wildfires will increase with climate change, Oregonian
    Climate change to result in 50% increase of wildfires, Examiner.com

  • Funding
    The authors acknowledge the support of a STAR (Science to Achieve Results) grant from the National Center for Environmental Research of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  • Learn more about our research on wildfires and air quality.


    Go to the Harvard Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group webpage.
    Back to Loretta Mickley's webpage.