NCEAS Project 12226

Pyrogeography - fire's place in earth system science

  • David Bowman
  • Jennifer K. Balch

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ActivityDatesFurther Information
Working Group19th—23rd April 2010Participant List  
Working Group26th September—1st October 2011Participant List  

Abstract
It is time to rethink the place of fire on Earth. Megafires are currently overwhelming human control, despite huge budgets and mature fire-fighting technologies. There is mounting evidence that, beyond immediate destruction of life and property, landscape fires have long-term effects on global carbon stocks, biodiversity, climate, world economies, and human health. Despite fire's pervasive influence in many disciplines, there is no uniting theory or paradigm concerning the role of biomass burning in Earth science. Moreover, fire has not been satisfactorily considered by global change policy and ecosystem management. We, therefore, propose a thought experiment addressing (i) whether fire would evolve where carbon-based life is resent, (ii) how it would evolve, and (iii) how humans, their cultures, and fire may have coevolved. We will combine knowledge about biomass burning across fields to develop an integrative paradigm of `pyrogeography' that addresses these fundamental questions. This synthetic exercise will inform and coordinate participant's research to derive global products that highlight how and where shifting fire regimes will have consequences for human health, property, and ecosystem services-including global terrestrial carbon stocks. Our outputs will be a succinct review paper, an edited volume, and a concise book that collectively will: (i) provide a conceptual framework to account for the variation of fire types (intensity, frequency, and extent) in space, time, and amongst cultures, (ii) set out working hypotheses that will guide future work, and (iii) identify major omissions of fire's important role in Earth science and management. These outputs are a prerequisite for adaptation to the apparent recent intensification of fireclimate-vegetation feedbacks, which have been exacerbated by climate change, rapid land cover transformation, and exotic species introductions that challenge the evolutionary integrity of entire biomes.

TypeProducts of NCEAS Research
Presentations Balch, Jennifer K. 2009. Pyrogeography. Chinese delegation to NCEAS, 28 October 2009.
Presentations Balch, Jennifer K. 2009. Pyrogeography: Fire's place in earth system science. Association for Fire Ecology 4th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress, 1 December 2009.
Journal Article Bond, William J.; Scott, Andrew C. 2010. Fire and the spread of flowering plants in the Cretaceous. New Phytologist. Vol: 188. Pages 1137-1150. (Online version)
Journal Article Bowman, David; Balch, Jennifer K.; Artaxo, Paulo; Bond, William J.; Carlson, Jean; Cochrane, Mark; D'Antonio, Carla M.; DeFries, Ruth S.; Doyle, John C.; Harrison, Sandy P.; Johnston, Fay; Keeley, Jon; Krawchuk, Meg A.; Kull, Christian; Marston, John B.; Moritz, Max A.; Prentice, I. Colin; Roos, Christopher; Scott, Andrew C.; Swetnam, Thomas W.; van der Werf, Guido; Pyne, Stephen J. 2009. Fire in the earth system. Science. Vol: 324. Pages 481-484.
Journal Article Bowman, David; Balch, Jennifer K.; Artaxo, Paulo; Bond, William J.; Cochrane, Mark; D'Antonio, Carla M.; DeFries, Ruth S.; Johnston, Fay; Keeley, Jon; Krawchuk, Meg A.; Kull, Christian; Mack, Michelle C.; Moritz, Max A.; Pyne, Stephen J.; Roos, Christopher; Scott, Andrew C.; Sodhi, Navjot S.; Swetnam, Thomas W. 2011. The human dimension of fire regimes on Earth. Journal of Biogeography. Vol: 38(12). Pages 2223-2236. (Online version)