Bacterial Emission Factors: A Foundation for the Terrestrial-Atmospheric Modeling of Bacteria Aerosolized by Wildland Fires

Environ Sci Technol. 2024 Feb 6;58(5):2413-2422. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.3c05142. Epub 2024 Jan 24.


Wildland fire is a major global driver in the exchange of aerosols between terrestrial environments and the atmosphere. This exchange is commonly quantified using emission factors or the mass of a pollutant emitted per mass of fuel burned. However, emission factors for microbes aerosolized by fire have yet to be determined. Using bacterial cell concentrations collected on unmanned aircraft systems over forest fires in Utah, USA, we determine bacterial emission factors (BEFs) for the first time. We estimate that 1.39 × 1010 and 7.68 × 1011 microbes are emitted for each Mg of biomass consumed in fires burning thinning residues and intact forests, respectively. These emissions exceed estimates of background bacterial emissions in other studies by 3-4 orders of magnitude. For the ∼2631 ha of similar forests in the Fishlake National Forest that burn each year on average, an estimated 1.35 × 1017 cells or 8.1 kg of bacterial biomass were emitted. BEFs were then used to parametrize a computationally scalable particle transport model that predicted over 99% of the emitted cells were transported beyond the 17.25 x 17.25 km model domain. BEFs can be used to expand understanding of global wildfire microbial emissions and their potential consequences to ecosystems, the atmosphere, and humans.

Keywords: LIDAR; aerosol; atmospheric transport model; bioaerosol; emission; pyroaerobiology; smoke; wildfire.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria
  • Ecosystem
  • Fires*
  • Forests
  • Humans
  • Wildfires*