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The Influence of Regional Meteorology on Carbon Emissions from California Wildfires

Patrick MurphyDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington Seattle, Washington

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Clifford MassDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between daily carbon emissions for California’s savanna and forest wildfires and regional meteorology over the past 18 years. For each fuel type, the associated weather (daily maximum wind, daily vapor pressure deficient (VPD), and 30-day-prior VPD) is determined for all fire days, the first day of each fire, and the day of maximum emissions of each fire at each fire location. Carbon emissions, used as a marker of wildfire existence and growth, for both savanna and forest wildfires are found to vary greatly with regional meteorology, with the relationship between emissions and meteorology varying with the amount of emissions, fire location, and fuel type. Weak emissions are associated with climatologically typical dryness and wind. For moderate emissions, increasing emissions are associated with higher VPD from increased warming and only display a weak relationship with wind speed. High emissions, which encompass ~85% of the total emissions but only ~4% of the fire days, are associated with strong winds and large VPDs. Using spatial meteorological composites for California subregions, we find that weak-to-moderate emissions are associated with modestly warmer-than-normal temperatures and light winds across the domain. In contrast, high emissions are associated with strong winds and substantial temperature anomalies, with colder than normal temperatures east of the Sierra Nevada and warmer than normal conditions over the coastal zone and the interior of California.

Corresponding author: Patrick Murphy, patmurph@uw.edu, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98115

Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between daily carbon emissions for California’s savanna and forest wildfires and regional meteorology over the past 18 years. For each fuel type, the associated weather (daily maximum wind, daily vapor pressure deficient (VPD), and 30-day-prior VPD) is determined for all fire days, the first day of each fire, and the day of maximum emissions of each fire at each fire location. Carbon emissions, used as a marker of wildfire existence and growth, for both savanna and forest wildfires are found to vary greatly with regional meteorology, with the relationship between emissions and meteorology varying with the amount of emissions, fire location, and fuel type. Weak emissions are associated with climatologically typical dryness and wind. For moderate emissions, increasing emissions are associated with higher VPD from increased warming and only display a weak relationship with wind speed. High emissions, which encompass ~85% of the total emissions but only ~4% of the fire days, are associated with strong winds and large VPDs. Using spatial meteorological composites for California subregions, we find that weak-to-moderate emissions are associated with modestly warmer-than-normal temperatures and light winds across the domain. In contrast, high emissions are associated with strong winds and substantial temperature anomalies, with colder than normal temperatures east of the Sierra Nevada and warmer than normal conditions over the coastal zone and the interior of California.

Corresponding author: Patrick Murphy, patmurph@uw.edu, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98115
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