Wildfires are growing in frequency and intensity, threatening our landscape, our lifestyle and our health. “Smoky Skies, Altered Lives” probes how the upsurge in fire and smoke fueled by climate change puts us at risk, and how restoring the health of our forests could make a difference.

A ski lift takes researchers to the summit of Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, where they’re examining the composition of wood smoke as well as local, regional and global pollution sources reaching the area.

 

Mount Bachelor Observatory sits 9,000 feet above sea level atop a dormant volcano in the Cascades of central Oregon. Professor Dan Jaffe of University of Washington Bothell leads a research group here. The site regularly receives free tropospheric air, making it a great place to study air pollution.

 

Ryan Farley of UC-Davis is part of a team looking at particulate matter from wood smoke by using an aerosol mass spectrometer.

 

The team measures tiny particles less than 1 micron across in size, which is many times thinner than a human hair. During this session in 2019, the team saw evidence of biomass burning in Alaska and possibly Siberia, said Ryan Farley (right).

 

A student works with a “thermal desorption ATD sampler,” or a volatile organic compounds sampler. It helps analyze air to gauge where smoke or other organic compounds are coming from.

 

Gathering around the laptop: Ryan Farley (left), Phil Rund, Noah Bernays and Claire Buysse. “It’s pretty sweet,” Buysse said of working on the mountain summit, “especially being on the mountain and just like getting to look outside and just do research up here. It’s definitely a fun ride. Not something you’re going to do every day.”

 

Phil Rund (left), a University of Washington graduate student, said part of the job is lugging nitrogen cylinders and equipment to the mountaintop research area via ski lift. “It’s definitely a little stressful to get all of this and the instrument on a ski lift up here, but it’s a really cool job.”