Multiscale assessment of the impact on air quality of an intense wildfire season in southern Italy

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Mar 20;761:143271. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143271. Epub 2020 Oct 29.


The summer of 2017 in the Calabria Region (South Italy) was an exceptional wildfire season with the largest area burned by wildfires in the last 11 years (2008-2019). The equivalent black carbon (EBC) and carbon monoxide (CO) measurements, recorded at the high-altitude Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) Monte Curcio (MCU) regional station, were analyzed to establish the wildfires' impact on air quality, human health, and the ecosystem. A method was applied to identify the possible wildfires that influenced the air quality based on the integration of fire data (both satellite and ground-based) and the high-resolution WRF-HYSPLIT trajectories. The satellite-based fires applied to WRF-HYSPLIT with 10 km of spatial resolution allowed us to establish that for 52.5% of total cases, wildfires were located outside the Calabria Region, and they were influenced by long-range transport. Nonetheless, the impact on human health, qualitatively evaluated in terms of passively smoked cigarettes (PSC) corresponding to the EBC, was greater when wildfires were local. Indeed, for wildfires located mainly in Calabria, the equivalent PSC ranged from 2.75 to 11.08. This maximum PSC value was close to the daily number of smoked cigarettes in Calabria (approximately 12.4). Even if this analogy does not imply a proportional effect between the estimated number of cigarettes smoked and the effective wildfire EBC exposure, this result suggests that wildfire emissions may have negative effects on people's health. Moreover, a focus on the Calabria Region was conducted using high-resolution ground-based GPS and higher resolution WRF-HYSPLIT back-trajectories (2 km) to measure wildfires. The validity of the methodology was confirmed by the EBC and CO positive correlation with the ratio between the identified ground-based burned areas and the distance from the sampling station. Moreover, the impact on the ecosystem was studied by analyzing the land vegetation loss due to the wildfires that contributed to air quality reduction at the MCU station. A total of more than 1679 ha of vegetation burned, the main losses comprising forests and shrubland.

Keywords: CO; Ecosystem; Equivalent black carbon; Passive smoked cigarettes; WRF-HYSPLIT.