Incoming PhD Student, Natasha Wesely was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP). Her proposal, entitled “Hierarchical Controls of Landform Structure on Fire Severity in the Sierras” was chosen from tens of thousands of applicants for this prestigious award (NSF funds approximately 15% of GRFP proposals). Congratulations Natasha!
Synopsis: Fire activity has reached new extremes in 2020, with thousands of people evacuated and over four million acres burned in California alone. Despite decades of work, it is still challenging to accurately predict patterns of fast spreading, high severity fire. While many studies have examined the climate-fire relationship, fire is also influenced by bottom-up controls like topography. Current fire risk models do not sufficiently incorporate topographic variation within watersheds, nor the spatial arrangement and orientation of landforms to each other. This means the collective effect of landforms at hierarchical scales is excluded, an oversight because the strength of bottom-up controls is spatially nonlinear and nonlinear dynamics exist between disturbance processes at different scales. Random Forest models will be calculated at hierarchical scales to quantify landform attribute controls on fire severity at watershed and subwatershed scales. Because wildfire has dramatically impacted ecosystems and the lives of many, we need to reimagine topography’s role in fire behavior to better forest management to keep people and infrastructure safe while fostering forest health.