Health effects of sugarcane burning

PM2.5 concentrations (ug/m3) attributable to sugarcane fires (top, mean for 2012-2018). Mortality rate attributable to sugarcane burning (bottom).

Our new study in Environmental Health Perspectives quantified the impact of smoke from sugarcane fires on mortality in South Florida. As we reported in the paper, these fires likely cause 1-5 deaths per year due to the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that they produce. The mortality risk is highest for people that live in the sugar growing region, while most of the deaths occur in coastal and inland cities that have high populations.

Our work combined well-established tools to derive these mortality numbers. We synthesized satellite data, surface air quality monitors, state burn permit data, and a 3-D smoke dispersion model to quantify the contribution of sugarcane fires to PM2.5. We then used population and health data from the State of Florida and relative risk functions from peer-reviewed literature to quantify the health impacts. These mortality estimates are based on risk associated with 6 causes of death that are linked to PM2.5 exposure in the general public age 25 and older.

Nowell, H.K., Wirks, C.K., Val Martin, M., van Donkelaar, A., Martin, R.V., Uejio, C.K., Holmes, C.D. (2022) Impacts of prescribed fire on public health in South Florida, Environmental Health Perspectives 130, 087004, https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP9957

Media attention

ProPublica event on sugarcane

ProPublica hosted a video screening and panel discussion on March 2 of “How One Country Sought to Combat the Harm of Burning Sugar Cane.” Chris was one of the panelists and he shared the group’s research on sugar cane fires in Florida. Other panelists included agronomists, regulators, and health experts from Brazil who spoke about the transition to green harvesting around Sao Paulo.

Anxhelo’s research recognized at AGU and AMS meetings

Anxhelo presented his research “Forecasting Prescribed Fires Using Weather Forecasts, Satellite Data, and Machine Learning” at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in December 2021 and at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in January 2022. His oral talk at AGU won an Outstanding Student Presentation Award and his AMS poster received an Outstanding Poster Presentation Award. This makes the 3rd consecutive year that Anxhelo has won an award for this growing research. Congratulations!

Kelly’s Outstanding Presentations

Kelly Graham received an Outstanding Student Presentation Award at the 2020 AGU Fall Meeting for her presentation “Modeling inter-annual variations and spatial gradients of atmospheric CO2 over the Arctic Ocean.” Her talk used GEOS-Chem to interpret CO2 observations from the O-Buoy network over the Arctic Ocean.

Closer to home, Kelly also won an award in the FSU Three Minute Thesis competition.

Congratulations, Kelly!

NASA Earth Observatory features Holly’s sugarcane research

Satellite image of smoke plumes from sugarcane fires near Belle Glade, Florida. Image from Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) on January 5, 2021.

Holly’s research on sugarcane fires in Florida was featured in the NASA Earth Observatory Picture of the Day for February 5. Landsat images collected earlier in January 2021 show several prominent smoke plumes over South Florida, originating from burning sugarcane fields during the winter harvest season. These smoke plumes are a regular feature during winter and Holly’s work is quantifying their effects on air quality using data from satellites, ground sensors, and an atmospheric dispersion model.

Anxhelo wins award at AMS Annual Meeting

Anxhelo Agastra was recognized with a Poster Presentation Award at the AMS Student Conference, recently held in Boston in January 2020. Anxhelo presented his work “Developing and evaluating a probabilistic forecast model for prescribed fires,” which is also the subject of his Honors in the Major thesis. The work uses machine learning and regression models to predict day-to-day variations in prescribed fires across the southeastern United States. Anxhelo’s predictions out-perform existing forecast methods using weather forecast data to anticipate where fires are likely to occur. Congratulations Anxhelo!

Have improvements in ozone air quality reduced ozone uptake into plants?

FSU Press Release

FSU News

WFSU Radio Interview

Our analysis of trends in ozone uptake into vegetation has just been published in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. The paper, led by Allison Ronan, used the SynFlux dataset, developed in the group by Jason Ducker. Despite the reductions in ozone air pollution across large parts of the United States and Europe, we found no consistent reductions in the amount of ozone that plants are taking up. Since the ozone uptake is directly related to damages, including lost crop yield, this work means that plants are not yet seeing the benefits of improved air quality. The reason for the disconnect is that the stomatal pores on leaf surfaces adapt to changing weather and climate and these stomatal changes have a bigger impact on the ozone uptake than the trends in ozone in the surrounding atmosphere.


Trends (2005–2014) in O3 metrics relevant to plant injury at SynFlux sites in Europe. POD is the phytotoxic ozone dose, representing the uptake of ozone into plant leaves. Other metrics quantify the concentration of ozone in ambient air. All metrics are calculated for June–September daytime. Arrows show linear trends and colors indicate significance of the trend (p value). From Ronan et al. (2020).

Ronan, A. C., Ducker, J.A., Schnell, J.L., Holmes, C.D. (2020) Have improvements in ozone air quality reduced ozone uptake into plants? Elementa Sci. Anthro. 8, 2, https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.399 [pdf]

Jason graduates!

Jason defended his PhD dissertation in November and graduated in the December commencement ceremony. His dissertation developed new datasets to understand atmospheric photochemistry and ozone. Congratulations!

Charley awarded NASA FINESST fellowship

Charley Fite was selected for a NASA Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) graduate research fellowship. The fellowship will support Charley’s research on air quality, fires, and pollution forecasting for the next three years. As part of that research, Charley will spend eight weeks in summer 2019 in the field during the NASA-NOAA FIREX-AQ aircraft campaign doing flight planning, along with other members of our group. The project will combine that aircraft data with satellite remote sensing and an atmospheric chemistry model to advance our knowledge of fires and smoke in the southeast US and beyond. Congratulations!

Kelly and Anxhelo selected for prestigious national programs

Two group members were chosen for selective science leadership workshops in June 2019. Congratulations Kelly and Anxhelo!

Kelly Graham joined the American Meteorological Society Summer Policy Colloquium in Washington, DC with funding support from the National Science Foundation. For ten days, Kelly joined a small group of graduate students and faculty from across the US for immersion in science policy. The program is designed to train future leaders in national science policy and funding. The group met with many current science leaders, including Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of Office of Science and Technology.

Anxhelo Agastra was selected for the Undergraduate Leadership Workshop at NCAR. The program gathered about 20 undergraduate geoscience majors from universities across the country. During a week in Boulder, Colorado, they learned about science careers and leadership opportunities .

Attendees of the 2019 AMS Science Policy Colloquium. Kelly Graham second from right.
2019 Undergraduate Leadership Workshop in Boulder. Anxhelo Agastra front row, third from right.