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New Research: “Reimagine Fire Science for the Anthropocene”
As wildfires cause increasing devastation worldwide, dozens of fire experts across the nation are joining together in calling for a more strategic and interdisciplinary approach to pursuing wildfire research and protecting vulnerable communities.
The paper, “Reimagine Fire Science for the Anthropocene” and published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Nexus, offers insight into the obstacles for fire science and provides guidance for investing in future research. The research was authored by 86 researchers from across disciplines.
Syracuse University researchers Jacob Bendix, professor of geography and the environment and senior research associate for the Center for Environmental Policy and Administration, and Melissa Chipman, assistant professor of earth and environmental Sciences, who studies climate and ecological change in the Arctic, both contributed to the report.
“The fire-related headlines each summer and fall serve to remind us that wildfire presents some of the most dramatic and consequential challenges in our warming world. The new paper in PNAS-Nexus is important because it represents the combined insights of several dozen of the most active wildfire researchers in the world,” said Bendix. “The collaboration brought together a dazzling array of expertise on topics including fire behavior, ecological impacts of fire, socioeconomic impacts of fire, wildfire smoke and public health, flooding, erosion and landslides resulting from fire, the varied human impacts on fire frequency and behavior, fire history over timeframes from years to millennia, and the changes in fire regimes as climate changes. The outcome is a paper that identifies the key areas and approaches for fire research that will help to meet the challenges of what has been termed a global wildfire crisis.”
The paper provides a suggested roadmap whereby scientists can cross disciplinary boundaries to synthesize both traditional and innovative data sources in developing fire science that can guide fire planning and management while advancing fundamental scientific understanding.
“Fire is a fundamental ecological and societal force on our planet. Although we have coexisted with fire throughout our human history, we are currently dealing with fire regimes of the Anthropocene — which essentially means a world where fire ignition and spread are exacerbated by human ignitions and global warming, ecosystems are increasingly flammable because of activities such as fire suppression causing the build-up of fuels, and fire risks are more severe because there are more people living in areas susceptible to burning,” said Chipman. “Thus, there are several key challenges associated with how to study and manage fire in these increasingly human-dominated landscapes.”
The five challenges outlined in the paper are:
- Integrate across disciplines by promoting coordination among physical, biological, and social sciences. Fire research currently is siloed within disciplines such as forestry, atmospheric chemistry, and others, but wildfire is a biophysical and social phenomenon that cannot be understood with any single disciplinary lens.
- Embrace different ways of knowing and knowledge generation to identify resilience pathways. Humans from diverse groups and perspectives, including indigenous peoples of tribal nations, can provide scientists with invaluable insights into fire.
- Use fire as a lens to address fundamental 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 and evolutionary biology, the evolution of Homo sapiens, and social dynamics.
- Capitalize on the “firehose” of data 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 aid our understanding of fire.
- Develop coupled models that include human dimensions to better anticipate future fire. To better anticipate future fire activity and its impacts, scientists need to develop more advanced computer modeling systems that incorporate both the human and non-human dimensions of fire.
“One of the major themes of the paper is that we need to develop holistic and integrated approaches to studying fire. This means greater collaboration amongst scientists of different disciplines to really understand the multifaceted causes and consequences of fire. But there is a lot more to it than that.” said Chipman.
“If we want to promote resilience to fire on this planet, it is absolutely critical to focus on the co-production of knowledge between western and Indigenous scholars. Many Indigenous peoples have a long and rich history of living with and utilizing fire to promote healthy ecosystems and are also often at the forefront of dealing with rapidly changing environments. So this paper attempts to highlight key knowledge gaps and offers a perspective on how to create better communication and promote the sharing of knowledge. In a nutshell, fire is physical, fire is ecological, but most importantly, because it is something that humans both affect and are affected by, fire is human,” said Chipman.
To schedule an interview with Bendix or Chipman, reporters should contact Ellen James Mbuqe, executive director of media relations at Syracuse University at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-496-0551.