When you are a regular reader of my blog you have certainly read my posts about Fairbanks’ winter air quality problem. When you just recently joined the High Latitude Style Tribe you may have read about the bad air quality on an evening on the deck at the Last Frontier. This post discusses the problem of wildfire smoke that occurs widely in the western US, Canada and Alaska and many other regions in the World each summer.
- Fairbanks is known as the Nation’s city with the worst air quality
- Air Pollution from the nearby Wildfires
- Summer Air Pollution Is Worse than That in Winter
- A bit about air quality regulation
- June Look of the Month
- Top of the World Style linkup No. 213
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
Fairbanks is known as the Nation’s city with the worst air quality
Huge efforts are made to reduce winter air pollution. In winter, temperatures are so low that nobody gets outside to breath the air. Only at 40 below, Fairbanksans go out in a bikini for a photo which is just 5 minutes or less.
In summer, air pollution due to wildfires is often much worse than air pollution due to local emission accumulated under the inversion in winter. However, in summer, people are outside. They mow their lawn, play, grill, hike, canoe, or just sit on their decks to catch some sun rays to build up their vitamin D levels (for surviving the winter without getting seasonal depression syndrome or cabin fiver). The smoke from wildfires means that Alaska doesn’t guarantee pristine air.
We get told to stay inside. However, unless we run an air purifier indoor air quality will get fast as bad as outside. So, where is the catch?
Nothing is done against the wildfires. It is just let-it-burn until human life, structure or historic monuments are endangered. In winter, the air quality officials ask the residents of the Fairbanks metropolitian area to not burn wood when there is a poor air-pollution alert. It’s to protect our health and that’s a good thing! However, what’s the catch? Shouldn’t the fires be fought to protect our health in summer? Long-term exposure can also endanger human life!
Air Pollution from Nearby Wildfires
Currently, there are two fires burning in the Fairbanks vicinity. Depending on the wind direction, Fairbanks is under the influence of their smoke. The image below shows the smoke over Fairbanks on June 27, 2019 in the visible range as seen by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard of NASA’s Terra satellite. There are two large areas of light brown smoke from the Shovel Creek and Nugget Creek wildfires northwest and northeast of Fairbanks, respectively. The red hot spots are heat signatures indicative of fires. Both fires started by lightning strikes. Officials are expecting the fires’ smoke to affect Fairbanksans in the next weeks. In plain English, until August when the so-called Alaska monsoon sets in. Note it’s not really a monsoon, but August is our wettest month.
There are firefighting activities in the Murphy Dome area. One of my students and one of my girlfriends as well as several colleagues live in this area. The Nugget Creek fire is 35 miles northeast of Fairbanks around Mile 30 Chena Hot Springs Road in the Chena River State Recreation Area. Some friends and colleagues live in this area.
When a white night becomes dark you know there is a fire
When we got back to the parking lot after dancing until 10:45 pm on Saturday night, the Sun was pink (see photo below). Moreover, the lights of the street lamps were on. They all have a light sensor. On a typical June night, no street lights are on. This means the ash and PM in the air dimmed the light so strong that the sensors behaved like they do at dawn: Switch on the lights. Learn more on why the light is pink in the post at the link.
Ash snowed like after the St. Augustine volcano eruption in 2006
On Sunday morning, ash fell onto our deck. You could literally see it fall. It looked like snowing. The air smelled like you are licking an ashtray. Well, Interior Alaska summers smell like a huge bonfire.
Summer Air Pollution Is Worse Than That in Winter
The diagram below bases on the raw data of the NCORE measurements in Fairbanks downloaded from EPA. You can see the first peak that related to my post on an evening at the Last Frontier. Note that it was called moderate pollution! The pollution went down below the NAAQS when the rain set in and washed out the ashes and particles. To keep the air in our house at bay we run our AirFree air purifier 24/7.
A bit about air quality regulation
For my international readers let me quickly define the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). The NAAQS for particulate matter less or equal to 2.5 μm in diameter – called PM2.5 98th percentile, averaged over 3 years, is 35 μg/m3. Note that PM2.5 is 70 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Various medical publications connected severe health issues to short and long term exposure to PM2.5. Note that the World Health Organisation recommends 25 μg/m3 not to be exceeded.
Particulate matter less or equal to 10 μm in diameter is called PM10. The 24 hours average PM10 NAAQS not to be exceeded more than once per year on average over 3 years is 150 μg/m3. The white and gray ash flakes that you see on our deck in the photo below are greater than several mm (1 mm = 0.0393701 inch).
June Look of the Month
Obviously, these photos for the look of the month were taken prior to the onset of the poor air quality episode. You can see the clear blue sky in the background of some of the summer outfit photos. I went for a posh, but comfy graphic tee with floral skirt and wedge sandals look in Pantome colors of the year. Ironically, they are the colors of fire.
More on what to wear in June in Interior Alaska at the link. What are you wearing on these hot summer days? Just curious.
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213th Top of the World Style Linkup party
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Tran, H.N.Q, Mölders, N. (2011). Investigations on meteorological conditions for elevated PM2.5 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Atmospheric Research, 99, 39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosres.2010.08.028.
Mölders, N., Fochesatto, G., Edwin, S. and Kramm, G. (2019) Geothermal, Oceanic, Wildfire, Meteorological and Anthropogenic Impacts on PM2.5 Concentrations in the Fairbanks Metropolitan Area. Open Journal of Air Pollution, 8, 19-68. doi: 10.4236/ojap.2019.82002.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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