Related Research Areas
Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems

Project Summary: Fire is an integral but poorly understood component of the Earth system. Interdisciplinary research is needed to estimate future climate change effects upon the fire environment and resultant feedbacks with human land use and mitigation efforts. To this end, we have assembled a talented multidisciplinary team of scientists to conduct integrated research on fire in the Earth system. Our areas of expertise include quantitative and applied remote sensing, fire and landscape ecology, spatial analysis and statistics, dynamic vegetation and land use modeling, economics, land use and land cover change research, geographic information science, and fire management. In response to NASA’s Interdisciplinary Research in Earth Science call for proposals in the area of Integrated Earth System Responses to Extreme Disturbances (Subelement 1), we propose to investigate the propensity for extreme fire occurrence as functions of climate, land cover and land use/management across 3 continents; Australia (entire), North America (lower 48 states U.S.) and South America (Brazilian Amazonia). We will provide comparable tests of proposed hypotheses and estimation of future climate change effects across multiple ecoregions within most of the world’s terrestrial biome types (boreal tundra and taiga will be the only major vegetated biome types not examined). Only through this type of large-scale study that incorporates many of the world’s ecosystems, land management approaches and climates, will it be possible to provide the context necessary to understand how fire is responding to climate change. We will quantify changes in fire danger since 1901 (since 1948 in Amazonia) as well as fire incidence and fire effects in recent decades. The probability and locations of exacerbated fire regimes under projected future climate scenarios will be investigated. Expected significance: The proposed project will make use of NASA assets (Landsat, MODIS) and produce the first multicontinent analyses of fire regime shifts due to climate and land use changes and also estimate the effectiveness of ongoing mitigation efforts. Only through large scale analyses is it possible to determine the degree to which climate may be changing landscape level fire behavior and the propensity for future extreme fire events to occur. Such knowledge is critical for society in order for proper development planning, regional adaptation and mitigation efforts to take place. Our proposed work will address four of the five requested components: 1. Characterize the nature, magnitude, and distinguishing attributes of extreme fire events. 2. Assess many natural (ecological, biogeochemical, climatic, biogeographic) and human (land use, conservation, socio-economic) aspects of extreme fire disturbances. 3. Quantify the effectiveness of many types of fire mitigation efforts over large regions. 4. Investigate the Earth system feedbacks among climate and land use changes and the placement, timing and characteristics of extreme fires over time. By applying what we learn to our analyses of projected future climate changes and simulated increases in climate variability, we will provide a solid understanding of when and in which ecoregions altered fire regimes may pose a risk to both human and natural resources. If large-scale, integrated, multidisciplinary research such as this is not conducted, then fire’s function in the Earth system will remain poorly understood and humanity will be left increasingly vulnerable to unforeseen and potentially catastrophic fire regime shifts as the climate continues to change.

Project PI: Mark Cochrane/South Dakota State University

Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence (GIScCE) 1021 Medary Ave., Wecota Hall Box 506B, Brookings, SD 57007.

Phone: (605) 688-5353



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Started: Sep 29, 2010

Last Activity: Jan 04, 2011


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