Over the last year, huge wildfires across the planet have raised global awareness of the devastating health impacts posed by breathing toxic smoke.
Fires contribute dramatically to the levels of particulate matter in the air and exposure to high levels of PM2.5 - even over a few days - can have adverse health effects such as triggering asthma attacks, worsening respiratory and heart conditions, and increasing the risk of cancer over time. The young and elderly are particularly affected when the air quality is low.
Air Quality Reporting Through a Huge Wildfire: The Challenging Reality
Accurately reporting on air quality through a huge wildfire presents a number of challenges due to the dynamic and unpredictable nature of smoke travel. In particular, providers that rely primarily or only on station sensor data will often struggle to maintain a good service during these times.
For example, a number of providers were unable to provide Californian residents with accurate air quality information during the 2019 wildfires in this area.
In addition to the usual delays and coverage issues associated with station-only reporting methods, station sensors themselves can become damaged during a wildfire outbreak, causing them to fail to report accurately or not to report at all. During a blackout, station sensors will stop reporting information altogether.
How Does BreezoMeter Report Accurately When Sensors are Down?
Many people are asking how BreezoMeter can continue to report air quality and notify residents of active fires in their area while other air quality data services become disrupted.
BreezoMeter’s multi-data layer approach means we’re uniquely placed to continue providing accurate information even when sensor information becomes unavailable. This is because our air quality model continues to pull information from numerous data sources such as, real-time traffic data, satellite information, active fires, meteorological input and more, even when government sensor information becomes unavailable.
BreezoMeter's Worldwide Smoke Model
Our smoke models use satellites, land cover and meteorological information to understand the exact location, stage and size of significant wildfires around the world:
- Satellites which make use of hyper-spectral sensors that measure different light bandwidths to detect the presence of fire on earth and to help us determine the stage of a fire which also impacts the type of Particulate Matter that is emitted. For example in the ‘flaming’ stage of the fire there may be more Black Carbon in the air compared to Brown Carbon during the ‘smouldering’ stage.
- Land cover information helps us understand the type of vegetation that is being burned which will also affect the air pollution.
- We also factor meteorological conditions such as rain precipitation and wind to learn more about the direction and level of smoke in a particular area. If the wind is carrying smoke in your direction, this will heavily impact the air quality where you are. Wind travel is one of the key reasons why the air quality can be sometimes much worse in an area surrounding a fire than at the source of the original fire itself.
- Finally, the fire model we use takes into account the chemical processes which alter the types of pollutant and pollutant levels downwind of a fire.
The combination of these methods means we can continue to report on air quality in an accurate way, and in some cases, we’ll pick up information about a new active fire before the media becomes aware of it.
The Importance of Timely Alerts During a Wildfire Outbreak
The smoke emitted by a wildfire can spread much further than the original fire source and sometimes the air quality can be worse after a fire has been contained than when it was active. Air quality can also be lower in a surrounding area than at the site of the fire itself.
Anyone in the area of a wildfire outbreak should stay up to date with new active fires in their area and keep informed of the changing air quality levels where they are - this is the best way to manage personal exposure to toxic pollution during a fire outbreak.
To keep updated, use our live fire and smoke pollution map or download BreezoMeter's free air quality tracking and fire alerts app here:
Share your Experience with Us
We have confidence in the accuracy of our air quality information but during a fast-changing wildfire event, we are not on the ground while you, our users, are.
If you’d like to query or are confused by the information you’re receiving from us, let us know the location and issue at email@example.com- we'll look into it.