NASA has begun its most extensive investigation into the impact of forest fires on the arctic atmosphere and its impact on climate change.

Three NASA aircraft will follow smoke plumes from northern hemisphere forest fires in an attempt to analyse the relationship between boreal forest fires and the northern-most polar ice cap.

The airborne laboratories are equipped to fly through the smoke and collect data, which will be correlated with data recorded on the ground. It is their last mission as part of NASA’s Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites.

“Coupled with the observations of arctic haze during the spring deployment based in Alaska, this data will improve our understanding of the relative importance of these two influences on arctic atmospheric composition and climate,” said Jim Crawford, head of NASA’s tropospheric chemistry programme.

“By conducting these flights in tight co-ordination with satellite and computer models, airborne observations lead to improvements in the interpretation of satellite observations and better representation of atmospheric processes in chemistry and climate models.

“This improves our confidence in models’ ability to monitor and predict future changes.”

The mission will also look at how the impact of smoke plumes changes over time and distance, which affects the creation of ozone in the lower atmosphere and in turn its ability to handle climate change.