A graphic showing where air quality has deteriorated since 1988 according to a study by UW Bothell professor Dan Jaffe and doctoral student Crystal McClure. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

A graphic showing where air quality has deteriorated since 1988 according to a study by UW Bothell professor Dan Jaffe and doctoral student Crystal McClure. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Air quality is worse in the west due to bigger wildfires

A study released last week shows air quality in much of the west is worsening.

Air quality in many western states is getting worse even as air across the rest of the country is getting cleaner.

A study conducted by University of Washington Bothell professor Dan Jaffe and doctoral student Crystal McClure found that air in the Northwest is getting dirtier due to fine particulate matter, which is known to be harmful to humans. Although many cities and urban areas still exceed federal levels for these fine particles, the overall reduction comes from a decrease in human emissions across the country. Fine particulate matter are small particles of material that are so small that they can be inhaled and work their way deep into the lungs or into the bloodstream and can cause health problems, especially for people with lung or heart conditions.

The study looked at extremely small particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns and focused on the worst seven days of the year for pollution. A micron is one-millionth of a meter. To put this into perspective, a human hair is 50 to 70 microns in diameter. Data was analyzed from between 1988 to 2016 from monitoring stations in rural parts of the country to avoid interference from pollution from cities. It found that in many western states during the dirtiest seven days in a year, pollution is getting worse. This includes much of Eastern Washington and Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and some of Utah and California. Notably, the Seattle-Portland corridor seems to have avoided much of the increase in air pollution.

The study found wildfires are a significant source of these particles and since the mid-1980s there’s been an increase in the frequency and duration of large fires, which the report suggests is due to climate change and warmer, drier conditions.

“This is another nail in the coffin that climate change is real and is happening now,” Jaffe said in a press release.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which published information on fires in the west, in the 1980s there were around 140 wildfires larger than 1,000 acres. Between 2000 and 2012 there were around 250 wildfires of the same size. The average length of wildfire seasons was around five months in the early 1970s, but this has increased to more than seven months. At the same time, annual temperatures in the western U.S. have increased by nearly 2 degrees, leaving forests drier for longer periods of time and leading snowpacks to melt sooner. During the 2015 wildfire season, a particularly bad one, more than 10 million acres burned across the U.S.

By mid-century, temperatures in the western U.S. are expected to increase even more, between 2.5 to 6.5 degrees due to human emissions. This will lead to forests suffering drought stress, and the areas where forests are water-limited is projected to increase to 32 percent by the 2020s, another 12 percent by 2040 and an additional 12 percent by the 2080s. Drought-stressed trees are susceptible to both large wildfires as well as pine beetle outbreaks, which also increases the likelihood of wildfires.

More in News

Vader served the Redmond Police Department for more than seven years and enjoyed a four-year retirement as the Hovenden family pet. Photos courtesy of RPD
Former Redmond police K-9 Vader, dies at 13

Vader served the department for more than 7 years and spent his retirement as a full-time family pet.

Sarah Yount, former YES client, speaks at YES’s 50th anniversary celebration on Nov. 2. Madison Miller/staff photo.
Youth Eastside Services celebrates 50 years

YES celebrates 50 years of providing youth and family behavioral health services.

Sky Metalwala has been missing for seven years. Photo courtesy of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Police plead for help in search for missing boy

Sky has been missing since Nov. 6, 2011 and turned 9 years old on Sept. 2.

Suspect arrested after stealing paychecks | Police blotter

The Redmond police blotter from Oct. 22 through 24. Courtesy of the RPD blog.

Kuderer leads Tom; Walen over Bright

Legislative District 48 race. Results are preliminary.

Democrats lead in 45th Legislative District

Dhingra, Goodman and Springer earned about two thirds of the vote.

DelBene leads in 1st Congressional District in early returns

As of election night, incumbent Suzan DelBene was leading with 69 percent of the vote, to Jeffrey Beeler’s 31 percent.

Marcus Naylor and Joshua Schaer.
                                Marcus Naylor and Joshua Schaer.
Naylor leads Eastside judicial race

Results are preliminary.

King County property assessments have begun for some Eastside neighborhoods

County property appraisers visit around one-sixth of all properties in the county each year to ensure the homes are valued correctly.

From left: Samantha Areliz (VALA curator), Marisa Mouton Provo (VALA Communication Director) and Zachary Burns (artist) look upon the Gatesville exhibit at the new VALA Eastside in Kirkland. Madison Miller/staff photo.
VALA Arts moves to Kirkland; changes name to VALA Eastside

VALA Eastside makes Kirkland its permanent home.

Upcoming shelter for women and families offers hope to Eastside

The city of Kirkland anticipates the shelter for families and women to be completed in 2020.

PSE natural gas bills will be lower this winter

This is the lowest rates the utility has provided since 2004.