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A Multiscale Numerical Modeling Study of Smoke Dispersion and the Ventilation Index in Southwestern Colorado

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Kiefer, Michael T.; Charney, Joseph J.; Zhong, Shiyuan ; Heilman, Warren E.; Bian, Xindi ; Mathewson, Timothy O.

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The ventilation index (VI) is an index that describes the potential for smoke or other pollutants to disperse from a source. In this study, a Lagrangian particle dispersion model was utilized to examine smoke dispersion and the diagnostic value of VI during a September 2018 prescribed fire in southwestern Colorado. Smoke dispersion in the vicinity of the fire was simulated using the FLEXPART-WRF particle dispersion model, driven by meteorological outputs from Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) simulations of the background (non-fire) conditions. Two research questions are posed: (1) Is a horizontal grid spacing of 4 km comparable to the finest grid spacing currently used in operational weather models and sufficient to capture the spatiotemporal variability in wind and planetary boundary layer (PBL) structure during the fire? (2) What is the relationship between VI and smoke dispersion during the prescribed fire event, as measured by particle residence time within a given horizontal or vertical distance from each particle’s release point? The ARPS no-fire simulations are shown to generally reproduce the observed variability in weather variables, with greatest fidelity to observations found with horizontal grid spacing of approximately 1 km or less. It is noted that there are considerable differences in particle residence time (i.e., dispersion) at different elevations, with VI exhibiting greater diagnostic value in the southern half of the domain, farthest from the higher terrain across the north. VI diagnostic value is also found to vary temporally, with diagnostic value greatest during the mid-morning to mid-afternoon period, and lowest during thunderstorm outflow passage in the late afternoon. Results from this study are expected to help guide the application of VI in complex terrain, and possibly inform development of new dispersion potential metrics.


smoke dispersion; ventilation index; complex terrain; numericalmodel; thunderstormoutflow


Kiefer, Michael T.; Charney, Joseph J.; Zhong, Shiyuan; Heilman, Warren E.; Bian, Xindi; Mathewson, Timothy O. 2020. A Multiscale Numerical Modeling Study of Smoke Dispersion and the Ventilation Index in Southwestern Colorado. Atmosphere. 11(8): 846. 25 p.

Last updated on: September 24, 2020