Ring of Fire: WildFIRE PIRE featured in MSU Mountains & Minds Magazine

WildFIRE PIRE PI and Montana State University Institutue on Ecosystems Director Cathy Whitlock and the WildFIRE PIRE International fire science collaboration are featured in the latest MSU Mountains & Minds Magazine. Understanding relationships between climate, fire, and land use is a core research theme for the IoE. Dr. Whitlock's paleoecological approach and international context allow long-term perspectives on how ecosystems function and change over time in reponse to climate, fire, and land use.

A project called WildFIRE PIRE, funded by a five-year, $3.85 million Partnership in International Research and Education (PIRE) grant from the National Science Foundation and a core project of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, is working to build detailed pictures of past and present fire activity and the influence of wildfire on the landscapes of three continents. In addition to its focus on historic fires, the group is building computer models that will project how those dynamics might play out in the future. The group will use thousands of years worth of historical data on landscape vegetation, fire, human behavior and climate to build a computer simulation to understand how future changes in climate and human factors might affect vegetation patterns in Earth’s forests. For Cathy Whitlock, MSU professor of earth sciences, principal investigator for WildFIRE PIRE and co-director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, the 1988 fires kindled a desire to better understand how fire ecology was woven into the hidden narrative of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which has evolved over the 14,000 years since the last great glaciers melted away. During 20-plus years of exploration into the paleoecology of Yellowstone, Whitlock has pioneered many of the techniques used for delving into a landscape’s history to better understand the role of wildfire in an ecosystem. Whitlock’s research is now the foundation of WildFIRE PIRE’s international efforts.