August 04, 2022

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Reimagine Fire Science for the Anthropocene

Five ways to re-envision fire science and stimulate discovery that helps communities better navigate the fiery future.

A proactive fire research agenda spans disciplines and translates to application while answering fundamental questions, incorporating diverse knowledge, capitalizing on new and existing data, and developing models integrating human dimensions and values.

A proactive fire research agenda spans disciplines and translates to application while answering fundamental questions, incorporating diverse knowledge, capitalizing on new and existing data, and developing models integrating human dimensions and values.

[Courtesy National Center for Atmospheric Research, from Shuman et al. 2022.]

The Science

Fires can be both useful to and supportive of human values, safe communities, and ecosystems. However, fires can also threaten lives and livelihoods. Climate change, fire suppression, and living closer to the wildland-urban interface have helped create a global wildfire crisis. Living more sustainably with fire is an urgent and ethical need. Re-envisioning fire science can stimulate discovery that helps communities better navigate the fiery future. This study argues that overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities is the only way to effectively undertake research that improves future outcomes.

The Impact

Fire has historically been studied from distinct disciplines as an ecological process, human hazard, or engineering challenge. In isolation, connections between human and non-human aspects of fire are lost. Research needs to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrative and predictive approaches. This shift will support pathways towards mitigating and adapting to the increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit.

Summary

Fire is a fundamental part of ecosystems globally and has been used to manage landscapes for millennia. Humans change wildfire activity via climate change, fire suppression, land development, and population growth. Altered fire regimes impact health, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. A group of 87 fire experts from many disciplines outlined barriers and opportunities in the next generation of fire science. Understanding, mitigating, and managing the impacts of fire require addressing key challenges to inform environmental and social justice by sustainably living and interacting with fire. A coordinated and integrated proactive approach across fire science, social science, and ecological research is necessary. Knowledge from diverse communities is essential to inform progress to safer and more sustainable communities and ecosystems. Establishing infrastructure and reducing barriers to information will accelerate scientific discovery and advances that promote fire-resilient communities. Fire experts agree that management, including utilization of fire, is essential to supporting safe communities and ecosystems. Inclusion and consideration of human dimensions and values, including where people live and their impacts on the world, are critical to forecasting and anticipating future fire. Supporting a holistic and collective approach is fundamental for science to inform policy and action in the future fiery world.

Principal Investigator

Jacquelyn Shuman
National Center for Atmospheric Research
[email protected]

Program Manager

Brian Benscoter
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science
[email protected]

Funding

This material is based upon work supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is a major facility sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement No. 1852977. This manuscript is a product of discussions at the Wildfire in the Biosphere workshop held in May 2021, which was funded by the NSF through a contract with KnowInnovation. This research was supported by the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics (NGEE-Tropics), which is funded by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Program within the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, and by the NASA Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) grant 80NSSC19M0107. Funding was also provided by the NSF grants DEB-1942068 and DEB-1655121 and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the University of Colorado Boulder.

References

Shuman, J.K., et al. "Reimagine Fire Science for the Anthropocene." PNAS Nexus 1 (3), 1–14  (2022). https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac115.