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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

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: 1. Whether fire would evolve where carbon-based life is present 2. How it would evolve, and 3. 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.

Principal Investigator(s)

David Bowman, Jennifer K. Balch

Project Dates

Start: May 27, 2008

End: June 3, 2008



Paulo Artaxo
Universidade de São Paulo
Jennifer K. Balch
Yale University
William J. Bond
University of Cape Town
David Bowman
University of Tasmania
Jean Carlson
University of California, Santa Barbara
Mark Cochrane
South Dakota State University
Ruth S. DeFries
University of Maryland
Martin Einhorn
University of California, Santa Barbara
Fay Johnston
University of Tasmania
Jon Keeley
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Meg A. Krawchuk
University of California, Berkeley
Christian Kull
Monash University
John B. Marston
Brown University
Max A. Moritz
University of California, Berkeley
I. Colin Prentice
University of Bristol
Christopher Roos
Southern Methodist University
Andrew C. Scott
University of London
Zongbo Shang
Thomas W. Swetnam
University of Arizona
Guido van der Werf
Vrije Universiteit


  1. Presentations / 2009

    Pyrogeography: Fire’s place in Earth system science

  2. Journal Article / 2010

    Comment on the incidence of fire in Amazonian forests with implications for REDD

  3. Journal Article / 2016

    Global combustion: The connection between fossil fuel and biomass burning emissions (1997-2010)

  4. Journal Article / 2009

    Fire in the earth system

  5. Presentations / 2009


  6. Journal Article / 2014

    Pyrogeography, historical ecology, and the human dimensions of fire regimes

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