SERDP 2021 Project of the Year Award for Resource Conservation and Resiliency

Department of Defense (DoD) facilities throughout the eastern United States (US) utilize low intensity prescribed fire to manage hazardous fuels, restore ecological function and historic fire regimes, and encourage the recovery of threatened and endangered species in the forests they manage. Current predictive models used to simulate fire behavior during low-intensity prescribed fires (and wildfires) are empirically based, simplistic, and often fail to adequately predict fire outcomes since they do not account for variability in fuel characteristics and interactions with important meteorological variables. The objective of this project was to improve understanding of, and ability to accurately predict, fire behavior under a wide range of management scenarios at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Dr. Nicholas Skowronski from the US Forest Service and his interdisciplinary team led a SERDP-funded project that developed and evaluated mechanistic, physics-based models that explicitly account for combustion, turbulent transfer, and energy exchange by coupling and scaling individual component processes. Laboratory and field experiments focused on open-canopy landscapes to account for relevant variation in fuel characteristics and meteorological factors at several scales.

The team successfully modeled fire behavior that highlighted the role of fuel structure in the burning of fuel layers. Investigations of fuel flammability suggest that an optimal fuel structure exists for a given fuel type due to the controlling (and competing) processes which govern burning. This project provides an improved understanding of combustion processes and the interactions between environmental variables and fuel attributes.  This key knowledge results in an enhanced ability to predict the fire spread and fuel consumption in the future.

For this significant work, Dr. Nicholas Skowronski and his team received the 2021 SERDP Project-of-the-Year Award for Resource Conservation and Resiliency for their project titled, Multi-scale Analyses of Wildland Fire Combustion Processes in Open-canopied Forests using Coupled and Iteratively Informed Laboratory-, Field-, and Model-based Approaches.

Project Team

  • Dr. Nicholas Skowronski – USDA Forest Service
  • Dr. Joseph Charney – USDA Forest Service
  • Dr. Kenneth Clark – USDA Forest Service
  • Dr. Michael Gallagher – USDA Forest Service
  • Dr. Warren Heilman – USDA Forest Service
  • Dr. William Mell – USDA Forest Service
  • Xindi Bian – USDA Forest Service
  • Matthew Patterson – USDA Forest Service
  • Jason Cole – USDA Forest Service
  • Dr. Michael Kiefer – Michigan State University
  • Dr. Sharon Zhong – Michigan State University
  • Dr. Rory Hadden – University of Edinburgh
  • Dr. Eric Mueller – University of Edinburgh
  • Zakary Campbell-Lochrie – University of Edinburgh
  • Carlos Walker-Rávena – University of Edinburgh
  • Dr. Albert Simeoni – Worchester Polytechnic Institute
  • Dr. Seong-kyun Im – University of Notre Dame
  • Giovanni Di Christina – University of Notre Dame
  • Dr. Robert Kremens – Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Lexi Everland – Tall Timbers Research Station