Wildfire experts provide guidance for new research directions

As wildfires wreak increasing havoc around the world, dozens of fire experts across the country are stepping up to call for a more strategic, interdisciplinary approach to furthering wildfire research and protecting communities. vulnerable.

A new study, led by a National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist and co-authored by 86 other fire experts from a variety of disciplines, highlights barriers to fire science and provides guidance for investing in future research. The comment follows 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 the Proceedings of the Nexus of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, the study outlines five key challenges to advancing the study of fire. These range from promoting coordinated research to exploiting diverse sources of knowledge.

“We need to develop a proactive fire research agenda that helps create safe communities and ecosystems,” said NCAR scientist Jacquelyn Shuman, lead author. “This requires a more interdisciplinary approach and the creation of diverse partnerships to make better use of existing knowledge.”

The scientists make their recommendations at a time when wildfires pose a growing global risk, spurred in large part by climate change, generations of fire suppression and more development at the interface between nature and cities. The past few decades have seen a substantial increase in the length of the fire season as far north as the Arctic, as well as intense conflagrations from the tropical wetlands of the Pantanal in South America to the bogs of tropical Asia. Across the western United States, warmer and drier conditions prompted fires that scorched nearly twice the area of ​​21st century compared to the end of the 20e century.

Despite the increasing destruction of wildfires, the authors point out that fire is a fundamental part of ecosystems globally and has been used by society to manage landscapes for millennia.

The innovation lab motivating this comment was funded by the NSF, which is the sponsor of NCAR.

Major advances in research

Thanks to increasingly advanced observation systems, field campaigns and computer models, scientists have made significant progress in better understanding and anticipating the behavior of wildfires, as well as the effects of smoke. on air quality. However, these advances have often been made in isolation, rather than being integrated into a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the causes and impacts 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 document, which build on these discussions, are:

  • Integrate all disciplines by promoting coordination between the physical, biological and social sciences. Fire research is currently siled into disciplines such as forestry, atmospheric chemistry, and others, but wildfires are a biophysical and social phenomenon that cannot be understood through a single disciplinary lens.
  • Embrace different ways of knowing and generating knowledge to identify pathways to resilience. Humans from diverse groups and perspectives, including indigenous peoples of tribal nations, can provide scientists with invaluable information about fire.
  • Use fire as a lens to address fundamental scientific questions. Fire is such an ancient and ubiquitous phenomenon that it can be used to help gain new knowledge in a range of sciences, including ecology and evolutionary biology, the evolution of Homo sapiensand social dynamics.
  • Capitalize on the data “firehose” to support community values. With more data now available to study fire in the biosphere than ever before, scientists need funding to harness the data revolution and help our understanding of fire.
  • Develop coupled models integrating human dimensions to better anticipate future fires. To better anticipate future fire activity and its impacts, scientists need to develop more advanced computer modeling systems that incorporate both human and non-human dimensions of fire.

“We have a lot more information about the fires than before, but we need more funding and better coordination to deploy them globally,” Shuman said. “This will allow us to be more proactive as we work to help society and ecosystems become more resilient to the growing risk of fires.”

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

Comments are closed.