A consortium of Missoula fire scientists recently received a $3 million grant to implement sophisticated experiments on large prescribed fires in Florida.
For the past three years, researchers with The University of Montana National Center for Landscape Fire Analysis and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station have worked as part of a diverse team to develop field instruments and techniques to precisely measure fuels, wind, moisture, fire behavior and emissions.
The Missoula team works with researchers from four other U.S. Forest Service research stations and two other universities. The group has teamed up to overcome the difficulties of making scientific measurements while fire is actively burning. By working together, they can share equipment and resources efficiently.
The group already tested and refined their methodologies on seven large prescribed fires at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida through participation in the Prescribed Fire Combustion and Atmospheric Dynamics Research Experiment, or RxCadre. RxCadre is a grassroots, nationally collaborative science team with strong ties to the operational fire community.
“We are excited to join other scientists trying to better understand the interactions of fire, weather and fuels in the field,” said Carl Seielstad, an associate professor in UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation. “We have been working toward this goal for several years now. We need integrated field observations to validate laboratory experiments and models, but they are difficult to collect.”
The grant, partially funded by the federal Joint Fire Science Program, will fund research essential for developing and validating next-generation fire models that combine atmospheric measurements with fire behavior and effects.
Seielstad uses laser scanning to create detailed three-dimensional models of fuel beds before and after burns. Engineers Bret Butler and Dan Jimenez measure in-fire energy transfer using instruments developed and built at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, part of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. Atmospheric chemist Shawn Urbanski will measure smoke emission factors throughout the plume using fixed-wing aircraft, and physical scientist Bryce Nordgren is developing a data management system to integrate observations produced by six different science teams.
UM’s fire center and the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory have collaborated through the Wildland Fire Science Partnership since 2007 to improve the management of wildland fire through integration of science, technology, education and practical experience. The Joint Fire Science Program funds scientific research on wildland fires and distributes results to help policymakers, fire managers and practitioners make sound decisions.