The Influence of Canadian Forest Fires on Pollutant Concentrations in the United States

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Science  14 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5464, pp. 324-328
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5464.324

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High carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations from uncertain origins occurred episodically in the southeastern United States during the summer of 1995. We show that these episodes were caused by large forest fires in Canada. Over a period of 2 weeks, these natural emissions increased CO concentrations in the southeastern United States as well as along the eastern seaboard, a region with one of the world's highest rates of anthropogenic emissions. Within the forest fire plumes, there were also high concentrations of ozone, volatile organic compounds, and aerosols. These results suggest that the impact of boreal forest fire emissions on air quality in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where anthropogenic pollutant sources have been considered predominant, needs to be reevaluated.

  • * Visiting scientist at CIRES, University of Colorado, and NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: gerhard.wotawa{at}

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