Thick smoke from summertime wildfires can present major health risks. Prediction models help locals prepare for poor air quality to come, but the data behind those models is not as conclusive as we might think. I board NASA’s DC-8 research plane in Boise, and we head down to a wildfire just north of the Grand Canyon.
Most people visit the attraction for the views, but the scientists on board are most interested in the wildfire smoke that’ll be clouding the scenery. In a little over an hour, we’ll descend to around 15,000 feet to fly straight into the plumes.
Carsten Warneke is a mission scientist on the project, and explains that the goal of the mission – called FIREX-AQ – is to gather more data about wildfire smoke. Understanding how it behaves will help them improve the scientific models that help make air quality predictions. On Monday, the DC-8 will begin the next phase of the mission with a flight to Kansas, where it will begin research on agricultural fires.