Seattle's summer of air pollution
Views 10 | Time to read: 2 minutes | Uploaded: 9 - 12 - 2018 | By: Erin Bunnell
After enduring a summer of record- breaking air pollution, Seattle is finally returning to normal, as the smoke from devastating fires along the West Coast begins to clear. However, the city is far from fully recovered from air pollution.
A few months ago, major wildfires scorched parts of the Northern Cascades and Southern Oregon. Many were evacuated from their homes, some major roadways were blocked off, and large portions of the North Cascades National Park, located on Washington’s border with Canada, were closed to visitors as officials dealt with the consequences of the fires. Seattle remained mostly untouched by these catastrophes at their start; however, the resulting smoke and ash was blown directly into the city by an atmospheric circulation. To make matters worse, Seattle’s warm summer air trapped the smoke, dispersing it across the city rather than allowing it to dissipate.
This perfect storm of conditions left Seattle with its lowest visibility level in twenty years, and its worst air quality in multiple locations in nearly as much time. However, with the shifting of winds from eastward to westward, it is very possible the smoke will now be directed out of the city. With the additional prospects of cooler air, cloud cover, and even a small chance of rain, there is hope that Seattle may indeed have a speedy recovery.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the city has faced such harsh pollution as a result of nearby wildfires. Last year, Seattle was met with an onslaught of smoke blown down from the handful of blazes sweeping the Canadian province of British Columbia. According to Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, this won’t be the last time. There are numerous large forests surrounding Seattle, most of them in poor condition due to a lack of upkeep and a decrease in controlled fires. He fears that when they eventually burn, “they [will] burn catastrophically,” causing smoke to cover a vast amount of the nearby land.
This is also true of the rest of the United State’s west coast—from Montana to California—as plenty of cities are encompassed by unruly and potentially dangerous vegetation. As the Thomas Fire proved, places like Santa Barbara are at risk of being consumed by raging wildfires. Another factor that contributes to the destructiveness of wildfires is expanded construction into high-risk fire areas.
Professor Mass proposed a solution on the National Public Radio: thin the forests and allow low intensity controlled fires to be reintroduced. Such a step could potentially prevent wildfires and decrease air pollution in the future.