Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres








Wildfire frequency has increased in the Western US over recent decades, driven by climate change and a legacy of forest management practices. Consequently, human structures, health, and life are increasingly at risk due to wildfires. Furthermore, wildfire smoke presents a growing hazard for regional and national air quality. In response, many scientific tools have been developed to study and forecast wildfire behavior, or test interventions that may mitigate risk. In this study, we present a retrospective analysis of 1 month of the 2020 Northern California wildfire season, when many wildfires with varying environments and behavior impacted regional air quality. We simulated this period using a coupled numerical weather prediction model with online atmospheric chemistry, and compare two approaches to representing smoke emissions: an online fire spread model driven by remotely sensed fire arrival times and a biomass burning emissions inventory. First, we quantify the differences in smoke emissions and timing of fire activity, and characterize the subsequent impact on estimates of smoke emissions. Next, we compare the simulated smoke to surface observations and remotely sensed smoke; we find that despite differences in the simulated smoke surface concentrations, the two models achieve similar levels of accuracy. We present a detailed comparison between the performance and relative strengths of both approaches, and discuss potential refinements that could further improve future simulations of wildfire smoke. Finally, we characterize the interactions between smoke and meteorology during this event, and discuss the implications that increases in regional smoke may have on future meteorological conditions.

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Science Foundation


modeling, smoke, wildfire

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Meteorology and Climate Science; Research Foundation