PNNL studies how wildfire smoke affects the climate

PASCO - A sleek plane could be the key to knowing how wildfire smoke affects the atmosphere. Brookhaven National Laboratory is partnering with PNNL on the project. And this summer, researchers have had plenty of smoke to study.

These fires have threatened homes and entire communities this season. Now, a team is working to redeem all that smoke.

"There's still bit unknown about what that net effect of the smoke is," said Deputy Director Jennifer Comstock.

Gulfstream-1 is working to determine just that. This aircraft has flown all over the Pacific Northwest this summer, especially during recent wildfires in Central Washington like the one that closed Satus Pass.

It's an aircraft with a history. First starting out as a commercial plane in the 50's before getting dedicated to research in the 80's.

Gulfstream-1 is outfitted with high-tech instruments to study smoke particles. These pieces analyze aerosols from outside the plane -- taking images of these microscopic pieces and sifting by size.

"It's a flexible thing. We're able to put in a wide variety of instruments that do all matters of things," said Payload Director John Hubbe.

So flexible, equipment inside the plane can shoot lasers at the smoke. This shows whether light is absorbed or reflected. It could tell whether smoke contributes to global warming. Right now, scientists believe there's a net cooling effect. But it's still too early to tell.

"In order to simulate the global climate on the whole earth, you need a lot of computation power and time," explained Comstock.

The next challenge? Using the data on a larger scale. To explain how these plumes affect our whole world.