Every spring, smoke from prescribed burns on Kansas' Flint Hills has the potential to affect air quality in eastern Kansas and surrounding states. But a new method of smoke modeling being researched at Kansas State University (KSU) could help manage the extent and impact of smoke plumes.

A KSU team led by Jay Ham, professor of agronomy, is adapting BlueSkyRAINS, a web-based information system used in the Pacific Northwest to monitor smoke from prescribed forest burns, to work for prairie burns. Ham, who specializes in environmental physics and micrometeorology, says there are two components to BlueSkyRAINS.

BlueSky is a computer model developed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to predict the impacts of smoke from prescribed, wildland and ag fires. RAINS (Rapid Access Information System) is a Geographic Information System product of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). USFS merged the two products into BlueSkyRAINS.

The computer modeling system has the potential to be a valuable aid to rangeland managers in Kansas, where the use of controlled fire is critical, Ham said.

By using BlueSkyRAINS, land managers, regulators and the general public can view the potential smoke impacts from regional burning activities before the fires occur. With input such as the location, time of day and acreage to be burned, the system animates the projected smoke plume. It can determine downwind smoke concentrations, potential public health alerts, visibility, if roads may be affected, and other effects, Ham says.

"These predictions help managers make the best decision about when to burn," Ham says. He and his fellow researchers are funded by a three-year grant to research the potential of BlueSkyRAINS in a prairie ecosystem.

Learn more about BlueSkyRAINS at www.blueskyrains.org.
-- KSU news release