Pyrogeography: Fire's Place in Earth System Science

Landscape Fires Affect Biodiversity, Human Health, Global Radiation Budget, Carbon Balance, & Hydrological Cycles

Principal Investigator(s): 

David Bowman and Jennifer Balch

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.This Working Group proposes a thought experiment addressing:

  • Whether fire would evolve where carbon-based life is present
  • How fire would evolve
  • How humans, their cultures, and fire may have coevolved

Combining knowledge about biomass burning across fields to develop an integrative paradigm of 'pyrogeography' this Working Group addresses these fundamental questions. In a period of intensifying fire activity, this synthesis will provide crucial information that aids human adaptation.

This Working Group's publication Fire in the Earth System
David M. J. S. Bowman, Jennifer K. Balch, Paulo Artaxo, William J. Bond, Jean M. Carlson, Mark A. Cochrane, Carla M. D'Antonio, Ruth S. DeFries, John C. Doyle, Sandy P. Harrison, Fay H. Johnston, Jon E. Keeley, Meg A. Krawchuk, Christian A. Kull, J. Brad Marston, Max A. Moritz, I. Colin Prentice, Christopher I. Roos, Andrew C. Scott, Thomas W. Swetnam, Guido R. van der Werf, Stephen J. Pyne
Science Magazine DOI: 10.1126/science.1163886

This group's research findings have been featured in a range of popular media:

Photo Credit: The Columbian

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