Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Richard E. Honrath


Tropospheric ozone (O3) and carbon monoxide (CO) pollution in the Northern Hemisphere is commonly thought to be of anthropogenic origin. While this is true in most cases, copious quantities of pollutants are emitted by fires in boreal regions, and the impact of these fires on CO has been shown to significantly exceed the impact of urban and industrial sources during large fire years. The impact of boreal fires on ozone is still poorly quantified, and large uncertainties exist in the estimates of the fire-released nitrogen oxides (NO x ), a critical factor in ozone production. As boreal fire activity is predicted to increase in the future due to its strong dependence on weather conditions, it is necessary to understand how these fires affect atmospheric composition. To determine the scale of boreal fire impacts on ozone and its precursors, this work combined statistical analysis of ground-based measurements downwind of fires, satellite data analysis, transport modeling and the results of chemical model simulations.

The first part of this work focused on determining boreal fire impact on ozone levels downwind of fires, using analysis of observations in several-days-old fire plumes intercepted at the Pico Mountain station (Azores). The results of this study revealed that fires significantly increase midlatitude summertime ozone background during high fire years, implying that predicted future increases in boreal wildfires may affect ozone levels over large regions in the Northern Hemisphere.

To improve current estimates of NOx emissions from boreal fires, we further analyzed ΔNOy /ΔCO enhancement ratios in the observed fire plumes together with transport modeling of fire emission estimates. The results of this analysis revealed the presence of a considerable seasonal trend in the fire NOx /CO emission ratio due to the late-summer changes in burning properties. This finding implies that the constant NOx /CO emission ratio currently used in atmospheric modeling is unrealistic, and is likely to introduce a significant bias in the estimated ozone production.

Finally, satellite observations were used to determine the impact of fires on atmospheric burdens of nitrogen dioxide (NO2 ) and formaldehyde (HCHO) in the North American boreal region. This analysis demonstrated that fires dominated the HCHO burden over the fires and in plumes up to two days old. This finding provides insights into the magnitude of secondary HCHO production and further enhances scientific understanding of the atmospheric impacts of boreal fires.