Environment

New research helps link extreme air pollution to climate change

Air quality is a year-round concern for California. We see it on days of restricting burns in winter, thick smog in summer and especially on days when the sky turns alarmingly orange with bushfire smoke, and until recently, most studies have examined these different types of pollution separately. However, all these different types of pollution can cause serious respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune system problems. There is now new research showing a significant increase in the number of days that ozone and particulate pollution (the smoke of wildfires) are combined to create severe air quality problems. This increase was measured across the entire American West but was particularly pronounced in Northern California. The study found that increased smoke from larger, more intense and more frequent wildfires is largely to blame for the greater number of these “simultaneous” pollution days in Northern California. Interestingly enough, ozone concentrations have actually decreased in recent years thanks to the clean air laws. During the summer months, bushfire smoke is likely to be trapped under large, high-pressure domes, which may create a “hood” over the lower part of the atmosphere, trapping harmful particles close to the ground. These higher pressure systems also tend to bring hot, sunny weather allowing more ozone to be produced. This is one of the main weather patterns responsible for these simultaneous ozone and particle pollution days. In addition, climate research shows a direct link between human-caused climate change and increased extreme heat, as well as longer and more intense droughts in the American West. Both of these factors can increase the amount of fuel available for wildfires, making “fire weather” days more frequent in a given year. According to data collected by Climate Central, the Sacramento Valley has seen a 12-day increase in the number of fire weather days per year since the 1970s. San Joaquin Valley now sees another 13 fire weather days of the year. More days with heavy pollution, whether from ozone or smoke or both means an increased risk of serious health problems in the future whether or not a person has a chronic illness.

Air quality is a year-round concern for California. We see it with the days of restricting burns in the winter, thick smog in the summer and especially on the days when the sky turns alarmingly orange with the smoke of wildfires.

Until recently, most studies examined these different types of pollution separately. However, all these different types of pollution can cause serious respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune system problems. There is now new research showing a significant increase in the number of days that ozone and particulate pollution (the smoke of wildfires) are combined to create severe air quality problems.

This increase was measured across the entire American West but was particularly pronounced in Northern California.

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The study found that increased smoke from larger, more intense and more frequent wildfires is largely to blame for the greater number of these “simultaneous” pollution days in Northern California. Interestingly enough, ozone concentrations have actually decreased in recent years thanks to the clean air laws.

During the summer months, bushfire smoke is likely to be trapped under large, high-pressure domes, which may create a “hood” over the lower part of the atmosphere, trapping harmful particles close to the ground. These higher pressure systems also tend to bring hot, sunny weather allowing more ozone to be produced. This is one of the main weather patterns responsible for these simultaneous ozone and particle pollution days.

In addition, climate research shows a direct link between human-caused climate change and increased extreme heat, as well as longer and more intense droughts in the American West. Both of these factors can increase the amount of fuel available for wildfires, making “fire weather” days more frequent in a given year.

According to data collected by Climate Central, the Sacramento Valley has seen a 12-day increase in the number of fire weather days per year since the 1970s. San Joaquin Valley now sees another 13 fire weather days of the year.

central climate

The Sacramento Valley now sees 12 more “fire weather” days annually than it did 50 years ago.

More days with heavy pollution, whether from ozone or smoke or both means an increased risk of serious health problems in the future whether or not a person has a chronic illness.

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