Smoke Plumes

Smoke Plumes


Western wildfire smoke plumes are getting taller.

In recent years, the plumes of smoke crawling upward from Western wildfires have trended taller, with more smoke and aerosols lofted up where they can spread farther and impact air quality over a wider area. The likely cause is climate change, with decreased precipitation and increased aridity in the Western U.S. that intensifies wildfire activity.

“Should these trends persist into the future,” says Kai Wilmot, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah, “it would suggest that enhanced Western U.S. wildfire activity will likely correspond to increasingly frequent degradation of air quality at local to continental scales.”

The study is published in Scientific Reports and supported by the iNterdisciplinary EXchange for Utah Science, or NEXUS, at the University of Utah.

 

Kai Wilmot

“Given climate-driven trends towards increasing atmospheric aridity, declining snowpack, hotter temperatures, etc. We’re seeing larger and more intense wildfires throughout the Western U.S., and this is giving us larger burn areas and more intense fires.”

 

Smoke height

To assess trends in smoke plume height, Wilmot and U colleagues Derek Mallia, Gannet Haller and John Lin modeled plume activity for around 4.6 million smoke plumes within the Western U.S. and Canada between 2003 and 2020. Dividing the plume data according to EPA ecoregions (areas where ecosystems are similar, like the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Wasatch and Uinta Mountains in Utah) the researchers looked for trends in the maximum smoke plume height measured during August and September in each region in each year.

In the Sierra Nevada ecoregion of California, the team found that the maximum plume height increased, on average, by 750 ft (230 m) per year. In four regions, maximum plume heights increased by an average of 320 ft (100 m) per year.

Why? Wilmot says that plume heights are a complex interaction between atmospheric conditions, fire size and the heat released by the fire.

“Given climate-driven trends towards increasing atmospheric aridity, declining snowpack, hotter temperatures, etc., we’re seeing larger and more intense wildfires throughout the Western U.S.,” he says. “And this is giving us larger burn areas and more intense fires.”

The researchers also employed a smoke plume simulation model to estimate the mass of the plumes and approximate the trends in the amount of aerosols being thrown into the atmosphere by wildfires . . . which are also increasing.

The smoke simulation model also estimated the occurrence of pyrocumulonimbus clouds—a phenomenon where smoke plumes start creating thunderstorms and their own weather systems. Between 2017 and 2020, six ecoregions experienced their first known pyrocumulonimbus clouds and the trend suggests increasingly frequent pyrocumulonimbus activity on the Colorado Plateau.

Taller plumes send more smoke up into higher elevations where it can spread farther, says John Lin, professor of atmospheric sciences.

“When smoke is lofted to higher altitudes, it has the potential to be transported over longer distances, degrading air quality over a wider region,” he says. “So wildfire smoke can go from a more localized issue to a regional to even continental problem.”

Are the trends accelerating?

Some of the most extreme fire seasons have occurred in recent years. So does that mean that the pace of the worsening fire trend is accelerating? It’s too early to tell, Wilmot says. Additional years of data will be needed to tell if something significant has changed.

“Many of the most extreme data points fall within the years 2017 -2020, with some of the 2020 values absolutely towering over the rest of the time series,” he says. “Further, given what we know of the 2021 fire season, it appears likely that analysis of 2021 data would further support this finding.”

In Utah’s Wasatch and Uinta Mountains ecoregion, trends of plume height and aerosol amounts are rising but the trends are not as strong as those in Colorado or California. Smoke from neighboring states, however, often spills into Utah’s mountain basins.

“In terms of the plume trends themselves, it does not appear that Utah is the epicenter of this issue,” Wilmot says. “However, given our position as generally downwind of California, trends in plume top heights and wildfire emissions in California suggest a growing risk to Utah air quality as a result of wildfire activity in the West.”

Wilmot says that while there are some things that people can do to help the situation, like preventing human-caused wildfires, climate change is a much bigger and stronger force driving the trends of less precipitation, higher aridity and riper fire conditions across the West.

“The reality is that some of these [climate change] impacts are already baked in, even if we cut emissions right now,” Wilmot adds. “It seems like largely we’re along for the ride at the moment.”

Find the full study at Nature.com.

 

by Paul Gabrielsen, first published in @theU.

Outstanding Advisor

Outstanding Advisor


Cyri Dixon has been named a NACADA Outstanding New Advisor.

Cyri Dixon, the Undergraduate Academic Advising Coordinator for the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has won the Outstanding New Advisor Award – Primary Role Category – from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Award selection is extremely competitive and designed to honor and recognize professionals who have made significant contributions to the field of academic advising in higher education. Candidates are nominated by their institution, and each application is carefully reviewed by NACADA committee members. All outstanding advisor nominations include a comprehensive list of the nominee’s professional qualifications, academic accomplishments, letters of support, and documented advising success.

Cyri Dixon

“I am grateful to work with such fantastic students, staff, and faculty. Advising is challenging, but working with my wonderful students makes it all worth it.”

 

“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Dixon. “I am grateful to work with such fantastic students, staff, and faculty. This award really highlights the strides we have been able to make in our department to create a better student experience and build a community where all students feel welcome and successful. Advising is challenging, but working with my wonderful students makes it all worth it.”

Dixon was previously recognized for her exemplary advising work when she was named Outstanding New Academic Advisor in 2021 by the University of Utah Academic Advising Community (UAAC). She serves as the only undergraduate advisor for the department and has proven to be a valuable resource to undergraduate physics students in all areas of academic advising. She has 236 physics major students that she meets with regularly, and she takes pride in knowing each student by name. She helps each develop a course plan that fits their interests, and she connects them to research and internship opportunities, campus resources, and the department community.

Here are comments from the University of Utah’s President’s Office, faculty, staff, and students about Dixon and her work:

“Dear Cyri, The President’s Office received this email of gratitude from a parent recognizing the talented staff and student employees at our university. Thank you for the hard work, kindness, and caring dedication you show our students and families. You are appreciated, and we value your contribution to the success of our students and university. We know this comes from colleagues like you who make it happen. Thank you.”
~Office of the President

“Whenever I am worried about a student, Cyri knows what is going on or knows what to do to address the problem. Thank you for your help, patience, and for caring about all our students.”
~Dr. Tugdual Stephan Lebohec, faculty

“Cyri’s work represents many of NACADA’s Core Values, but most striking is her laser-like focus on empowering her students. In her philosophy, Cyri shares a little of her own experience as a first-generation student from a rural area; knowing that there so many talented and brilliant students who are limited in opportunities and resources, she [Cyri] writes that this ‘drives my motivation to help any student who walks in my door to not only survive and graduate, but also thrive and make the most of their experience.’”
~Stephanie Begaye, and Ashley Glenn, UAAC Advisor Awards Committee Co-Chairs

“Cyri has been a terrific advisor for me. She has always been available for chats or emails and been quick to respond to all of my questions, even unusual or specific ones that are only tangentially related to completing a physics degree. After every meeting I’ve had with her, I tell my wife, ‘she’s a great advisor.’ I think Cyri absolutely deserves this award.”
~student comment

“Cyri, thank you for taking the time to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. I wanted to let you know I was accepted into two programs, one of them being the University of Utah! This is a huge step in pursuing my career goals and an immense accomplishment for me.”
-student comment

A first-generation graduate of Utah State University, with a degree in Physical Sciences Education, Dixon also has minor degrees in physics and chemistry teaching. She recently earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Utah. Originally from Idaho, she returned to Utah after living in the Midwest and teaching middle school science and engineering in Arizona. She loves hot air ballooning, Wonder Woman, and her dog, Roka.

About NACADA
Since 1983, NACADA has honored individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising. The goal of NACADA is to promote quality academic advising and professional development of its membership to enhance the educational development of students. For more information, visit NACADA.

by Michele Swaner, first published @ physics.utah.edu

 

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SRI Team

SRI Team


Josh Steffen, Ph.D.

SRI Director; Associate Professor Lecturer

Josh Steffen, Ph.D.

SRI Director; Associate Professor Lecturer
Josh received his BA in biology and secondary education from St. Olaf College. He carried his Ph.D. and post-doctoral research at the University of Utah where he studied plant reproductive development with Gary in the lab of Gary Drews. He carried out post-doctoral research in the lab of Richard Clark where he studied natural variation in gene expression. Over the past 8 years he has held faculty positions at Colby-Sawyer College and Utah Valley University where he focussed on undergraduate education. In 2018 he accepted a position in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah. Currently, Josh manages the Science Research Initiative (SRI), teaches courses associated with the SRI, and mentors multiple undergraduate research groups. Undergraduates working with Josh are using metagenomic approaches to characterize pollinator foraging behaviors, attempting to identify novel antimicrobials, and carry out genetic analysis of maize mutants.
 joshua.steffen@utah.edu

Heather Briggs, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor

Heather Briggs, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor
Heather completed a M.S. at the University of Michigan (Natural Resources) and a Ph.D at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Environmental Studies & Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). She went on to complete two postdoctoral positions, first at Harvard, then at UC Irvine. Heather now helps manage the SRI where she empowers students to work through hypothesis generation, experimentation, and interpretation. As an evolutionary community ecologist, Heather’s research is motivated by the desire to understand how variation in community context influences the outcome of biotic interactions. Through the exploration of the various determinants of insect behavior, plant ecology, and floral evolution, her research considers the importance of context-dependent interactions from both the plant and pollinator perspectives.
 heather.briggs@utah.edu

Ryan M. Stolley, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor

Ryan M. Stolley, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor
Ryan received his BS in chemistry from Fort Lewis College and Ph.D in organic chemistry from the University of Utah. He then conducted a post-doctoral appointment at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’ Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis. After PNNL, he was a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies office. Ryan is currently an assistant research professor in the chemistry department where he works with numerous groups as a synthetic chemistry specialist, co-director of the SRI, and chairperson of the Salt Lake section of the American Chemical Society. Ryan’s research is in fundamental organic and organometallic chemistry uncovering new reaction paradigms using underexplored or entirely new functional groups, exotic ligands for rare-earth element coordination, and a variety of exotic conducting materials.
 801-581-6538
 ryan.stolley@utah.edu

Laura Rupert

SRI Project Coordinator

Laura Rupert

SRI Project Coordinator
Laura received B.S. degrees in Geography (emphasis in climate change & landscape dynamics) and Environmental Studies (emphasis in air, water and health) from the University of Utah. Her research experience includes undergraduate field work in the Fijian Islands with a focus on water quality in fresh- and saltwater systems. Within the SRI, she coordinates day-to day operations of the program and works with the goal of collaborating and communicating effectively with college leadership, faculty, students, postdocs and staff.
 L.rupert@utah.edu

SRI Fellows

 

Josh Scholl, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Josh Scholl, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Josh received his B.S. in biology from Florida Atlantic University and M.S. and Ph.D from the University of Arizona in ecology and evolutionary biology. He then worked as a postdoctoral researcher with Amy Iler at the Chicago Botanic Garden and as an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University. Josh now works as a postdoctoral associate for the SRI. In his research, Josh is interested in understanding the strategies organisms use to cope with changing environments (e.g., urban areas and deserts) and how those strategies affect fitness and population dynamics. He also loves teaching and developing educational tools. To this end, he is a big proponent of the Ecological Society of America's SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability) program which he enjoyed as an undergraduate member and now as a chapter advisor. To learn more about Josh and his research, education, and outreach endeavors visit https://joshuapscholl.weebly.com/.
 joshua.scholl@utah.edu

Selvi Kara, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Selvi Kara, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Selvi received her Ph. D in mathematics from Tulane University in 2017 and she held a faculty position at the University of South Alabama for 4 years after her Ph.D. Before joining the SRI as a postdoctoral fellow, she worked as a Research Associate at the University of Utah, Department of Mathematics. Selvi’s research is in commutative algebra, combinatorics, and geometry. Her research is focused on using combinatorial tools to study algebraic/geometric problems. One of her recent research interests is in higher dimensional chip-firing, a dynamical system, and she is interested in studying these systems combinatorially and algebraically. Selvi is one of the co-founders of Meet a Mathematician, a collection of short video interviews of mathematicians from historically excluded backgrounds in mathematical sciences. She is dedicated to creating and supporting spaces which center mathematicians and students from historically excluded backgrounds and amplify the historically excluded voices and their experiences in mathematical spaces.
 selvi.kara@utah.edu

Rodolfo Probst, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Rodolfo Probst, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Rodolfo received his B.Sc. in Biology at the State University of São Paulo and an M.Sc. in Systematics, Taxonomy, and Biodiversity at the University of São Paulo, both in Brazil. He recently obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Utah (Ecology, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology), where he investigated the evolution of ant-plant mutualistic interactions while working in the lab of Jack Longino. His research uses genomic tools, taxonomy, and natural history to understand ant-plant symbioses. He is led by his interest in insect evolution and his passion for tropical fieldwork, teaching the public about bugs and conservation, and exploring the outdoors. When not at the lab or collecting ants, he likes going road biking and hiking around Utah, cooking, and writing poetry.
 rodolfo.probst@utah.edu

Mikhael Semaan, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Mikhael Semaan, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Mikhael received twin BSes in Electrical Engineering and Physics from California State University, Long Beach, before continuing to the University of California, Davis for his Physics PhD. While at Davis, he taught active learning-based courses geared towards bioscience majors and cultivated a passion for scientific communication between disciplines. His research centers on how pattern and structure emerge in “complex systems:” how do we discover nature's patterns? How do we recognize a forest's structure as intricate, but a coin flip's as simple? Tackling these questions involves a combination of techniques from physics, mathematics, and computer science—applied in such seemingly unrelated areas as finance and cardiology! As an SRI Fellow, Mikhael is most excited to equip students not just with these tools but with the skills to build new ones, so that they might carry them across disciplinary boundaries throughout their chosen careers.
 m.t.semaan@utah.edu

Gennie Parkman, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Gennie Parkman, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Gennie received her BS in molecular biology from the University of Utah and went on to complete a PhD in Oncological Sciences and Master’s in Clinical Investigation. Her graduate research was focused on the PI3K>AKT cellular signaling axis in melanoma and understanding its role in melanoma initiation and progression. Her thesis was devoted to elucidating the role of this pathway in MAPK-driven melanoma as upregulation of PI3K lipid effectors contributes to current treatment primary and secondary resistance. Before joining the SRI as a postdoctoral fellow, she co-led a SRI cancer biology stream with Dr. Sheri Holmen to define critical targets in cancer that be identified as therapeutic interventions for metastatic melanoma and glioma and is enthusiastic to continue this work. In addition to her research, Gennie has served as an Adjunct Instructor at Westminster College and Utah Valley University and is committed to undergraduate science education. As an SRI fellow, Gennie is excited to not only equip students with the background necessary to identify the most crucial questions in cancer biology but also to formulate hypotheses and have the confidence to undertake the experiments necessary to answer these vital questions.
 gennie.parkman@hci.utah.edu

Austin Green, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Austin Green, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Austin Green is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Utah under the Science Research Initiative (SRI) and one of the leaders of Wasatch Wildlife Watch (WWW). Both the SRI and WWW are all about providing experiential and research-based learning and mentorship opportunities to undergraduate students and volunteer citizen scientists. Austin’s research goals are to help elucidate how human influence affects wildlife distribution and behavior in an effort to apply this knowledge to on-the-ground wildlife conservation. Austin is passionate about teaching and interacting with people, and he firmly believes that the best way to protect the wild lands we all love is to approach it with inclusive community engagement. He is excited to not only contribute to science and conservation on a local level, but it also help provide valuable evidence about human-wildlife interactions across the globe.
 austin.m.green@utah.edu