Wildfire experts provide guidance on new research trends

As wildfires cause increasing devastation worldwide, dozens of fire experts across the country are joining together in calling for a more strategic and multidisciplinary approach to pursuing bushfire research and protecting vulnerable communities.

New studyLed by a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and co-authored by 86 firefighting experts from a variety of disciplines, it highlights obstacles facing fire science and provides guidance for investment in future research. The commentary is a follow-up to a five-day Innovation Lab, sponsored by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which brought together diverse research communities in May 2021 to develop a roadmap for new research directions.

Posted in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Nexus journal, the study identifies five major challenges moving forward in the study of fire. These range from promoting coordinated research to drawing on diverse sources of knowledge.

“We need to develop a proactive fire research agenda that helps create safe communities and ecosystems,” said Jacqueline Schumann, a scientist at the NCAR. “This requires a multidisciplinary approach and building diverse partnerships to make better use of existing knowledge.”

Scientists are making their recommendations at a time when wildfires pose a growing global risk, driven in large part by climate change, generations of fire suppression, and further development at the land-urban interface. Recent decades have seen a significant increase in the length of the fire season as far north as the Arctic, as well as intense fires from the tropical wetlands of the Pantanal in South America to the peatlands of tropical Asia. In the western US, warmer, drier conditions are causing fires that have burned nearly twice the area in 21Street century compared to the late 20The tenth century.

Despite the increasing devastation of wildfires, the authors assert that fire is an essential part of ecosystems globally, and has been used by society to manage landscapes for thousands of years.

The innovation lab driving this comment was funded by NSF, which is NCAR’s sponsor.

Major research progress

Using monitoring systems, field campaigns, and increasingly advanced computer models, scientists have made great strides in better understanding and predicting the behavior of wildfires, as well as the effects of smoke on air quality. However, this progress has often been made in isolation, rather than integrated into a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the causes and effects of fires.

Recognizing the need for a more convergent approach, the Innovation Lab last year brought together experts from federal agencies and universities. They represented fields ranging from ecology, forestry, and anthropology to geomorphology, hydrology and computer science, among others.

The five challenges outlined in the paper, which build on those discussions, are:

  • Integration across disciplines by promoting coordination between the physical, biological and social sciences. Fire research is currently isolated in disciplines such as forestry, atmospheric chemistry, and others, but forest fires are a biophysical and social phenomenon that cannot be understood through a single specialized lens.
  • Build different approaches to knowledge and knowledge generation to identify pathways to resilience. Humans of various groups and viewpoints, including indigenous peoples in tribal nations, can provide scholars with invaluable insights into fire.
  • Use fire as a lens to answer basic science questions. Fire is such an ancient and pervasive phenomenon that it can be used to help gain new insights into a range of sciences, including ecology, evolutionary biology, and the evolution of sane manand social dynamics.
  • Take advantage of the data “hose” to support community values. With more data now available to study fires in the biosphere than ever before, scientists need funding to harness the data revolution and aid our understanding of fires.
  • Develop coupled models that include human dimensions to better predict future fires. To better predict future fire activity and its effects, scientists need to develop more advanced computer modeling systems that incorporate both the human and non-human dimensions of the fire.

“We have much more information on fires than before, but we need increased funding and better coordination to spread it on a global scale,” Schumann said. “This will enable us to be more proactive as we work to help society and ecosystems become more resilient in the face of increased fire risks.”

– This press release was originally published on the website of the National Center for Atmospheric Research

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