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Reimagine fire science for the anthropocene

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Shuman, Jacquelyn K  ORCID logo
Balch, Jennifer K 
Roos, Christopher I  ORCID logo


Fire is an integral component of ecosystems globally and a tool that humans have harnessed for millennia. Altered fire regimes are a fundamental cause and consequence of global change, impacting people and the biophysical systems on which they depend. As part of the newly emerging Anthropocene, marked by human-caused climate change and radical changes to ecosystems, fire danger is increasing, and fires are having increasingly devastating impacts on human health, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. Increasing fire danger is a vexing problem that requires deep transdisciplinary, trans-sector, and inclusive partnerships to address. Here, we outline barriers and opportunities in the next generation of fire science and provide guidance for investment in future research. We synthesize insights needed to better address the long-standing challenges of innovation across disciplines to (i) promote coordinated research efforts; (ii) embrace different ways of knowing and knowledge generation; (iii) promote exploration of fundamental science; (iv) capitalize on the “firehose” of data for societal benefit; and (v) integrate human and natural systems into models across multiple scales. Fire science is thus at a critical transitional moment. We need to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrative and predictive approaches that support pathways toward mitigating and adapting to our increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit. Only through overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities can we effectively undertake research that improves outcomes in our more fiery future.


Acknowledgements: The authors thank Kathy Bogan with CIRES Communications for the figure design and creation, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Funder: National Center for Atmospheric Research 12|0; DOI:


climate change, wildfire, wildland–urban interface, resilience, social–ecological systems

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PNAS Nexus

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Oxford University Press
National Science Foundation 12|0 (1852977)