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Environment: Study shows space-based sensors can accurately measure greenhouse gases and other air pollution

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

Satellite data verified by in-stack measurements

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Keeping tabs colorless, odorless carbon dioxide emissions is not always easy, yet it will be crucial someday for being able to measure whether countries are meeting targets for emissions reductions.

Scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory now say they’ve been able to measure air pollution and greenhouse gases from the two coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners — the largest single point source of pollution in the U.S. Continue reading

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A vicious cycle: New study says wildfire soot may be a bigger factor in global warming than previously thought

The Las Conchas Fire, burning July 6, 2011 in the Jemez Mountains, sends up a pyrocumulus cloud. Photo courtesy

The Las Conchas Fire, burning July 6, 2011 in the Jemez Mountains, sends up a pyrocumulus cloud. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Tiny ‘tar balls’ are very good at absorbing the sun’s energy

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Soot from wildfires includes tiny tarball-like particles that focus sunlight and warm the atmosphere when they absorb light. The overall effect may contribute more to global warming than previously thought, researchers with Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a new study based on measurements during the huge 2011 Las Conchas Fire, which burned in the vicinity of the lab.

“We’ve found that substances resembling tar balls dominate, and even the soot is coated by organics that focus sunlight,” said senior laboratory scientist Manvendra Dubey, “Both components can potentially increase climate warming by increased light absorption.” Continue reading

Climate trends to trigger massive change in SW forests

A thermal emission sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this view of the Waldo Canyon, Colorado burn scar. 2012,  Vegetation-covered land is red in the false-color image, which includes both visible and infrared light. Patches of unburned forest are bright red, in contrast with areas where flecks of light brown indicate some burning. The darkest brown areas are the most severely burned.

Current conditions already reaching historic megadrought levels with widespread tree deaths expected in coming decades

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Forests of the southwestern U.S. may be on the verge of dramatic changes in the coming decades, as a warming climate may squeeze many species of their narrow ecological niche.

New research shows that Southwest drought conditions in recent years are as intense as they were during the historic megadroughts of the 1200s and 1500s.

Southwestern forests grow best when total winter precipitation is high combined with a summer and fall that aren’t too hot and dry, but many climate models suggest the region will be warmer and drier. New Mexico just experienced its driest 24-month stretch on record.

If those conditions persist, it would likely result in widespread tree deaths and significant changes in the distribution of species on a regional landscape level, according to a new report published in the journal Nature Climate Change last week.

To measure the impacts of climate change, the scientists developed a stress index, factoring winter precipitation, late summer and fall temperatures, and late summer and fall precipitation into one number. Continue reading

Las Conchas Fire started by downed power line

A burned forest landscape along Road 289 within the footprint of the Las Conchas Fire. PHOTO BY BURT STALTER VIA FLICKR.

Wildfire near Los Alamos 19 percent contained after destroying 63 homes

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New Mexico fire officials said Sunday evening they’ve traced the ignition of the 122,000-acre Las Conchas Fire to an arcing powerline. Investigators were at the scene shortly after the fire started June 26.

They believe the fire started when an aspen tree blew down on to nearby power lines during a wind storm, according to New Mexico State Forester Tony Delfin.

The contact resulted in the line arcing, which then caused the tree to catch fire. Heat and flame caused the line to snap, which then allowed the burning tree to fall onto the ground where the fire spread into nearby vegetation.

The fire has destroyed 63 residences, five commercial properties and 32 outbuildings. Continue reading

Las Conchas Fire grows to more than 100,000 acres

Wildfire near Los Alamos now the largest on record in New Mexico

A June 29 NASA satellite image shows smoke from the Las Conchas Fire, which has now burned over more than 100,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire on record in New Mexico.

A July 1 map shows the northeastward spread of the Las Conchas Fire.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After early morning infrared aerial surveys, fire officials say the six-day-old Las Conchas Fire has now burned across a footprint of more than 103,000 acres, making it the state’s largest single wildfire on record, after the 2003 Dry Lakes Fire, which burned more than 94,000 acres in the Gila National Forest.

The fire was most active on its northern flank Thursday, where it burned across about 6,000 acres of the Santa Clara Pueblo, threatening watersheds and historic cultural resources.

Visit the Santa Fe New Mexican Fire Dashboard for continually updated information including a live blog. Streaming information is also available via this Las Conchas Fire Twitter hashtag.

Thursday’s light rain moistened some of the fuels in the vicinity of the fire, but forecast winds and low humidity will once again dry those fuels to previous levels by Friday afternoon. Continue reading

Firefighters in New Mexico battle to keep 80,000-acre Las Conchas blaze away from Los Alamos nuclear laboratory

U.S. Forest Service closes large parts of Carson National Forest; preventive burns conducted to prevent westward spread of fire

A map showing the extent of the Las Conchas Fire as of June 29, with the most recently burned areas marked in red.

Thick smoke at the Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico. PHOTO BY GLENN SIMPSON, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE VIA FLICKR. Click on the image to see the entire Flickr gallery.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Firefighters in New Mexico Wednesday sprayed roadside vegetation, set preventive fires and even used industrial lawnmowers in their battle to keep the Las Conchas Fire, near Los Alamos, New Mexico, from spreading into the grounds of Los Alamos National Laboratory, even as the fire’s footprint grew by another 10,000 acres to reach a total of more than 80,000 acres by Thursday morning.

The fire started June 26 and the cause is still under investigation. Frequently updated information and links to all other fire info resources are online at Inciweb and and at New Mexico Fire Info.

The Santa Fe New Mexican has aggregated coverage of the fire, including maps and a live blog, at this website. Similarly, the Albuquerque Journal has this website dedicated to coverage of the fire and related issues. Continue reading

Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico destroys 12 buildings

No fire burning on Los Alamos National Laboratory lands; air sampling detects no radiation from nuclear facility

The Las Conchas Fire burning in mixed forest near Los Alamos, New Mexico. PHOTO BY GLENN SIMPSON, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE. Click on the photo to see the Flickr feed from the Las Conchas Fire.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Las Conchas wildfire, burning near Los Alamos, New Mexico, has destroyed 12 buildings and threatens several others as it spread across a 69,000-acre footprint in the past few days.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the 12 structures are in Cochiti Canyon, above the town and dam of Cochiti Lake, about halfway between Albequerque and Bandelier National Monument. In an email, a staffer with the Albuquerque Journal wrote that most of Bandelier has burned, but that the historic visitor center is OK.

The Journal reports on the fire here, with detailed photo coverage including reader photos.

Officials said in a June 29 briefing that there is currently no fire on the grounds of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and that air sampling has not shown any radioactive materials from lab operations of legacy waste in smoke from the Las Conchas fire. More at the New Mexico Fire Info website.

Firefighters are setting preventive fires at the western edge of the fire to prevent the spread of flames on to the grounds of the laboratory. About 350 firefighters, using 12 engines, four bulldozers and five helicopters, are battling the blaze, which is now 3 percent contained, according to an Inciweb update published June 30.

Excellent coverage of the wildfires in New Mexico, including a continual  live blog, is consolidated online at the Santa Fe New Mexican website. Continue reading

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