Wildfire, water and climate change: Protecting communities and supporting ecosystem resilience

You’re invited: Public Frontiers in Science lectures May 11-12

May 6, 2022


Drought, climbing temperatures and vicious winds have stoked dozens of fires in New Mexico and hundreds across the nation—and it’s only the first week of May. Across the West, even normally drenched regions have experienced more destructive wildfires. Two free, public lectures this month will relay how new scientific tools and expertise empowers society to better predict and respond to prescribed and wildland fires in complex conditions that enable proactive wildland fire management.

“We are now seeing larger and more extreme wildfires that are burning at times we have not seen before. Fire is a natural part of the environment, and most ecosystems need fire to thrive. When left unburned, suppressed for a hundred years in many cases, dangerous fuels accumulate in the forest,” said lecturer Adam Atchley, Los Alamos National Laboratory hydrologist. “Climate-driven disturbances are also rapidly changing fire activity, resulting in a loss of ecosystems, altered watersheds and massive releases of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”

Atchley, an expert studying links and feedbacks among water, wildland fire and forests, will highlight wildfire research across the Lab at Frontiers in Science lectures, “Wildfire, water and climate change: Protecting communities and supporting ecosystem resilience,” May 11 and 12.

Climate change is driving catastrophic wildfires threatening communities, critical ecosystems and resources. Los Alamos scientists combine interdisciplinary expertise with world-class technology and supercomputers to study and predict climatic change and impacts to protect national, economic, energy, environmental and societal security.

Laboratory researchers have studied fire behavior for decades, developing award-wining analysis and tools, including FIRETEC and QUIC-Fire, that incorporate critical and constantly changing influences such as vegetation structure, variable winds, fire movement and complex topography. Prescribed, or controlled, burns improve ecosystems and reduce wildfire intensity, but until now antiquated data and tools hindered planning in our rapidly changing and densely populated landscapes.

The Lab provides state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary scientific tools to safely manage burns to maximize ecosystem stability, reduce carbon release and protect human health, air quality and water resources. These tools include novel 3D fire, hydrologic and ecosystem modeling; an atmospheric forensics facility; and portable, rapid simulators that capture site-specific conditions in real time. Atchley will explain how expertise, new data and tools help decision makers restabilize ecosystems and protect forests and society, plus he will highlight the efforts to provide technology and expertise to wildland fire practitioners. 

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows present Frontiers in Science in Los Alamos May 11 at Crossroads Bible Church, 97 E. Rd. and in Santa Fe May 12 at the New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 West Palace Avenue. Both events run from 5:30-7 p.m. and are free to the public. No registration is required.