KITP Fosters Collaboration Between Physicists and Ecologists That Leads to Crucial New Insights Into the Role of Fire in Climate Change

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An article, “Fire in the Earth System,” published in the April 24, 2009 issue of “Science,” calls for the dynamic incorporation of fire as both an effect and a cause in models of global climate and its change. The article’s insights came from a workshop on fire ecology that occurred in the summer of 2008 as part of the KITP program “The Physics of Climate Change.”

The workshop represented a joint effort between KITP and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), both located at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and both funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The article’s 22 authors were workshop participants. The lead authors are David Bowman, a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, and Jennifer Balch, NCEAS postdoctoral fellow. Other authors include Brad Marston, principal organizer of the “Physics of Climate Change” program, and Jean Carlson, UCSB physicist and expert on fire modeling who acted as principal liaison in the innovative research collaboration between physicists and ecologists that led to the published insights.

According to the authors, “there remains a serious lack of knowledge about fire’s fundamental role in Earth System processes, as well as an insufficient appreciation of fire’s interaction with anthropogenic global environmental change.” They note that though “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that global climate change will increase the risk of extreme fire events, its assessment did not quantify potential fire-climate feedbacks.”

The authors warn that, “Failure to develop a coordinated and holistic fire science will handicap efforts to adapt to changing fire regimes and manage fire.”

[UCSB press release] [“Science” article abstract] | [Listen to KCLU-FM radio story]