New to DRI: Wildland Fire Science Center

New to DRI: Wildland Fire Science Center 

20 February 2016

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USA– A record 10 million acres of land across the united states were scorched by wildland fires in 2015. Last year alone, the U.S. Forest service spent more than $1.7 billion and 50% of their budget fighting wildfires.

The new Wildland Fire Science Center targets a new era for fire science, with a disciplinary team of scientists at the Desert Research Institute taking lead. The new research center will support the development of advanced technologies and tools needed for better science and management, including the use of drones, satellites, and DRI’s biomass burning facilities.

Dr. Hans Moosmüller, Director of the new research center explains on why we need new technologies and new scientific insights on how to deal with the fire problem,

“[We’ve had] 250 years of suppression of fire in the West, so we have a large buildup of fuels on the ground, which are not going away. They will burn in a wildland fire or prescribed fire, or have to be mechanically removed which is very expensive. And the other aspect is climate change, for example, we have had now a 3 to 4 year drought in our region which leads to more fires and larger fires.”

Wildand fires have been strongly increasing, especially here in the Western U.S.. Fire science is inherently interdisciplinary and by combining the broad expertise at DRI they can build a better understanding of the wild fire process. Some of the labs include; the Environmental Analysis Facility run by Dr. John Watson, the Organic Analytical Laboratory run by Dr. Vera Samburova, Carter Family Optics and Acoustics Laboratory run by Dr. Hans Moosmüller, and Ecologically Controlled Encoded Lysimeter Laboratories- EcoCells run by Dr. Jay Arnone.

Part of Dr. Arnone’s research is examining and testing the fuel source of wildfires. He explains how Fire is a natural part being in The Great Basin,

“Fire is naturally is caused by lightning strikes. When lightning strikes an ecosystem that doesn’t have any cheatgrass in it, it burns the sage brush and other native shrubs that are present in the ecosystem.”

His research is focused on the water and carbon exchange between the surface and the surrounding environment to better understand how cheatgrass plays a role in fire mitigation.

When a wildfire occurs, black carbon and organic molecules are emitted into the atmosphere, which impacts air quality and atmospheric optics. Organic molecules can actually change the properties of the air. With the large increase in wildfires, more research will aid in understanding smokes role in the global climate.n Dr. Moosmüller explains more on how black versus white smoke impacts the global climate,

“The earth behaves like a person having a black shirt on in the desert and heats up. And if there are mostly white aerosols the earth stays cooler. So aerosols can make a contribution to global warming or cooling.”

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