As wildfire regimes and our relationships with fire continue to change, a convergent and strategic research approach is needed to understand and to forecast these dynamics in a warming world. This five-day innovation lab brought together diverse research communities to generate creative strategies and new research collaborations aimed at improving understanding and prediction of the causes and consequences of future fires. This lab developed a coordinated roadmap for the direction of this research area. The lab also led to the formation of interdisciplinary teams poised to advance research and education about how fire operates as a fundamental process on Earth

The event was held online May 17-19, 21, and 26, 2021. —

The Challenge

Advances in methods to characterize wildfires and wildfire regimes and interactions with living systems are rapidly changing. However, these advances often occur in relative isolation due to current funding mechanisms. Wildfire research in the past decade includes tools like Earth observing satellites and aircraft, establishment of long-term research sites and persistent observatories, investment in plant trait and genomic databases, and the development of paleoecological records spanning continental to global scales. The main discovery has been that wildfires and wildfire regimes are incredibly diverse with equally diverse consequences to living systems ranging from molecular pathways to the globe. We have insufficient knowledge about the consequences of wildfire on living systems. The main limitation is linking insights gained from different methods and approaches into a comprehensive and holistic understanding.

A convergent approach is needed to overcome these challenges and make significant intellectual and societal advances. Such an approach could leverage existing programs that fund research related to wildfire and its consequences. Through developing a coordinated effort, significant advances can be made. Collaborations between researchers in diverse biological fields and quantitative scientists (e.g. mathematicians, computer scientists, Earth scientists, and engineers) with relevant expertise could lead to better approaches to interrogate and predict wildfire behavior and ecological consequences using available data, in situ and remote sensing, and new experimental systems.

The Innovation Lab

This lab brought together ~100 wildland fire researchers working in a variety of fields including atmospheric sciences; biogeochemistry; computational and modeling sciences; computer science; ecology and evolutionary processes; engineering; geomorphology and land surface processes; hydrology; remote sensing; systematics and biodiversity science; and those exploring the human dimensions of wildfire. Researchers working with cyberinfrastructure, with facilities such as NEON and NCAR, with NASA satellites and campaigns, with industry partners, and with research networks such as CZO and Ameriflux, were welcomed, as well as those working on education and outreach initiatives and workforce professional development. Innovation Lab participants recognized that forming new collaborations and developing innovative approaches were essential to address challenges associated with studying wildfire and its impacts.

At the W&B Innovation Lab, interdisciplinary teams worked together to ideate and develop a roadmap for how to tackle selected challenges in this field. Through the course of the five days, teams formed, pitched and refined plans for interdisciplinary strategies, priorities, projects, campaigns, and innovative approaches. Participants also contributed to a roadmap aimed at shaping the direction of this developing research area.

As an Earth system process, wildland fire integrates complex feedbacks among biological, social, geophysical, and engineering processes, requiring coordination and investigation across divergent fields, scales, and perspectives. Participants welcomed this challenge and outlined several emergent themes and topics to make progress in our understanding of wildland fire.

Meeting Outcomes

Participants at the Wildfire and the Biosphere Innovation Lab identified several critical wildland fire opportunities. These topics highlighted the urgency and need for a strategic, coordinated, and convergence research approach that leverages innovative partnerships and agency investments.

  1. Taking advantage of the wildland fire data revolution
  2. Overcoming the fire fracture: interagency and cross-sector partnerships
  3. Future fire: from sub-seasonal forecasting to predicting to 2100
  4. Educating the next generation of diverse fire scientists and managers
  5. Social-ecological resilience to fire: measuring, supporting, predicting
  6. Land-atmosphere feedbacks of fire from local to global scales, short and long term
  7. Understanding the interactions between wildland fire and hydrology
  8. Biophysical feedbacks of fire on the ecosystem: from microbes to continents
  9. Fostering innovative and inclusive fire science: co-production of knowledge with diverse stakeholders
  10. Fire behavior and fire effects
  11. Paleo-Neo wildland fire synthesis
  12. Fire as an ecological and evolutionary process
  13. Understanding fire as a coupled human-natural phenomenon
  14. Fire and biodiversity across scales
  15. Envisioning a next-generation, adaptable fire observatory & data synthesis network
  16. Managing for change: informing resist, accept, direct (RAD) approaches
  17. Unique challenges of cross-scale relationships involving fire
  18. Fire as a driver of state changes through interactions with landscape and climate
  19. Fire and the Earth surface
  20. Human Earth Systems