There's An Unexpected Side Effect Of Wildfires, According To A New Study

Contributing Health Writer By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
Contributing Health Writer
Gretchen earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”
The Unexpected Risk of Wildfires

Image by Artpilot / iStock

While fires are actually a normal part of the forest ecosystem, thanks to dry summers and higher temperatures, this year's wildfire season has been particularly destructive. Fires have burned acres and acres of land on multiple continents; at one point, fires burned in Alaska, Siberia, the Canary Islands, and the Amazon rainforest—all at the same time.

The Amazon fire has been so large, you can even see it from space. And according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, there's an unexpected side effect of these fires we should be aware of. According to the research, smoke from forest fires can produce aerosol particles and gases that will have serious climate change implications.

A collaboration between scientists in Japan, Arizona, and New York, the research showed that the biomass burning (BB) that occurs during these wildfires can produce emissions that cause major problems for our health as well as for our climate. In fact, BB emissions are expected to increase as a result of climate change, and one type of particle in particular, called tarballs, are of particular importance. Tarballs are microscopic BB particles that make up about 30% of BB aerosol mass, but until now we haven't known about how they form or how they may influence climate change.

This study was able to observe tarballs form in the first hours of a fire, when organic aerosols go through chemical and physical changes due to smoke formation. It also showed that the size, shape, and composition of these particles make them particularly damaging to the climate. "[The findings] will significantly improve assessments of biomass burning impacts on regional and global climate," said one of the professors on the study. In other words, the knowledge gained from this study has taught us how these tarballs are formed and helped us predict how much they'll affect the planet in the future.

In the meantime, we can all do our part to fight wildfires by donating to charities like Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Foundation.

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