Pyrogeography: Fire's Place in Earth System Science

Principal Investigator(s): 

David Bowman and Jennifer Balch


Landscape fires affect biodiversity, human health, the global radiation budget,
carbon balance and hydrological cycles   
Photo Credit: USGS

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:

  •     Whether fire would evolve where carbon-based life is present
  •     How it would evolve, and
  •     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. In a period of intensifying fire activity, our synthesis will provide crucial information that aids human adaptation.

This group's research findings have been featured in a range of popular media:
      Australian Broadcast News (ABC) Interview with David Bowman (Interview transcript)
      Bloomberg News article
      Science News feature article
      Miller-McCune feature article
      Reuters U.S. article (also available at UK Reuters)
      The Star (Malaysia) article
      Tasmanian Times (Australia) article
      Insurance Journal article

More information about this research project, participants, and publications.