Rangeland Burning and Smoke Diffusion in the Flint Hills
Rangeland burning in the Flint Hills region of Kansas is a key management tool for maintaining the largest undisturbed area of tallgrass prairie in North America. A significant portion of the 5 million hectares of the Flint Hills is burned each year in a fairly narrow time window in early spring. Long-term research has shown that the optimum time for burning to optimize productivity for grazing purposes in the Flint Hills is during late March and April. Due to numerous windy and wet days, there few ideal days for controlled burning during the optimum time. This results in relatively large areas of prairie being burned on a few days, which heightens the potential for air quality problems at the local and regional level. In recent years, the cities of Kansas City, MO; Tulsa, OK; and Omaha, NE; in particular have experienced air quality problems associated with Flint Hills fires. Additionally, clouds of particulate matter from Flint Hills fires have contributed to regional haze issues in the eastern U.S. as far away as Raleigh, NC. It is imperative that we improve the understanding of conditions under which air quality impairments in the region’s cities occur and develop a reliable modeling framework for describing emissions from rangeland burning. This proposed research seeks to develop this understanding along with the modeling capability. This will in turn, be used to develop an education and intervention strategy for the region that will be delivered through local extension.