Articles | Volume 14, issue 1
Research article
08 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 08 Jan 2014

Field measurements of trace gases emitted by prescribed fires in southeastern US pine forests using an open-path FTIR system

S. K. Akagi, I. R. Burling, A. Mendoza, T. J. Johnson, M. Cameron, D. W. T. Griffith, C. Paton-Walsh, D. R. Weise, J. Reardon, and R. J. Yokelson

Abstract. We report trace-gas emission factors from three pine-understory prescribed fires in South Carolina, US measured during the fall of 2011. The fires were more intense than many prescribed burns because the fuels included mature pine stands not subjected to prescribed fire in decades that were lit following an extended drought. Emission factors were measured with a fixed open-path Fourier transform infrared (OP-FTIR) system that was deployed on the fire control lines. We compare these emission factors to those measured with a roving, point sampling, land-based FTIR and an airborne FTIR deployed on the same fires. We also compare to emission factors measured by a similar OP-FTIR system deployed on savanna fires in Africa. The data suggest that the method used to sample smoke can strongly influence the relative abundance of the emissions that are observed. The majority of fire emissions were lofted in the convection column and were sampled by the airborne FTIR. The roving, ground-based, point sampling FTIR measured the contribution of individual residual smoldering combustion fuel elements scattered throughout the burn site. The OP-FTIR provided a ~ 30 m path-integrated sample of emissions transported to the fixed path via complex ground-level circulation. The OP-FTIR typically probed two distinct combustion regimes, "flaming-like" (immediately after adjacent ignition and before the adjacent plume achieved significant vertical development) and "smoldering-like." These two regimes are denoted "early" and "late", respectively. The path-integrated sample of the ground-level smoke layer adjacent to the fire from the OP-FTIR provided our best estimate of fire-line exposure to smoke for wildland fire personnel. We provide a table of estimated fire-line exposures for numerous known air toxics based on synthesizing results from several studies. Our data suggest that peak exposures are more likely to challenge permissible exposure limits for wildland fire personnel than shift-average (8 h) exposures.

Final-revised paper