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NASA DC-8 to Fly Low Over Los Angeles Basin and San Joaquin Valley

PALMDALE, Calif.- NASA’s DC-8 will be conducting low-level flights over the Los Angeles Basin and San Joaquin Valley on Sept. 5 as the flying laboratory returns from a two-month investigation into the life cycles of smoke from fires in the United States.

A team of scientists onboard the aircraft will sample air in Central and Southern California on the flight back from Salina, Kansas to the DC-8’s base of operation at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703 in Palmdale, California. To achieve these measurements, the aircraft will fly between 1,500 feet and 3,500 feet over various areas of the Los Angeles Basin and San Joaquin Valley.

The DC-8 flew a similar flight path collecting air samples over these areas on its flight from Palmdale to Boise, Idaho on July 22. The air quality data collection is part of a partnership agreement with the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Even though California has stringent emission controls, areas within the Southern Coast, Los Angeles Air Basins and San Joaquin Valley fall short of meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

A team from UC Irvine will analyze multiple air samples collected onboard the NASA DC-8 for over 50 volatile organic compounds, which are pollutants that contribute to ozone and particulate matter formation. CARB will use these measurements to better understand the emission sources and atmospheric processes that lead to ambient air pollution. This data will also be used to evaluate the performance of a regional air quality model used to guide air pollution control strategies to efficiently achieve NAAQS in California.

“This is an exciting and rare opportunity to gather information that will help us to understand more about the challenges posed by climate change and the role it plays in the causation of wildfires,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard W. Corey. “Our mandate is to protect public health and we expect the findings from these research flights will improve our ability to more fully plan for and communicate the potential health risks posed by wildfires to the public.”

The science team’s primary focus has been the Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) mission, a joint campaign led by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) seeking to gain a better understanding of how smoke impacts weather and climate and collecting information that will lead to improved air quality forecasting.

FIREX-AQ scientists spent time in Boise, Idaho during July and most of August to focus on smoke effects drawn from wildfires. Boise provided a convenient and centralized location to observe fires burning in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and other western states. During this portion of the mission, the team was able to capture unique data including flying through a pyrocumulus cloud generated by a fire in eastern Washington.

From Boise, the science team headed to Salina, Kansas where the focus switched from wildfires to smaller agricultural fires burning across the South and Midwest regions of the United States.

“After sampling a dozen large wildfires in the west, some over multiple days, and 85 smaller fires in the east over a wide range of fuels and conditions, we are returning home with the most extensive characterization of fire emissions ever collected,” said NASA Mission Scientist Jim Crawford. “These samples are tied directly to specific sources makes them all the more valuable for improving our prediction of the environmental impacts of smoke associated with fires.”

The FIREX-AQ mission will conclude sometime during October to November as the team tentatively plans to observe a prescribed burn in Fishlake National Forest in Utah.

For more information about FIREX-AQ Mission, visit:

To follow along real-time with the DC-8’s flight path, visit:!/status/list

Kate Squires
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center