SALT LAKE CITY — The skies over the Salt Lake Valley are grey and filled with wildfire smoke coming from the west coast. But, how much of that are we actually breathing? Researchers at the University of Utah have created a way to predict where wildfire smoke will go, and where it may cause health problems for more people.
University of Utah Chemical Engineering associate professor Heather Holmes said the potential health risks from wildfire smoke correlate to how high the smoke has traveled. She said her partner, Dr. S. Marcela Loría-Salazar with the University of Oklahoma, noticed something odd when looking at the pollution data from the Yosemite Rim Fire in 2013.
"She said, 'there's smoke going over Fresno, but if you look at the EPA monitor, it doesn't look like the air pollution is going up as high as you would expect,'" Holmes said.
After taking a closer look they discovered vertical winds had pushed the smoke into the troposphere, away from the earth's surface. So, the pollution levels stayed relatively low even though the air looked incredibly dirty.
"It wasn't low enough to be able to mix down into the surface," said Holmes.