Tirtha Banerjee, UCI assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering
Tirtha Banerjee, UCI assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, received an NSF CAREER award to study the role of turbulent flows in wildland fire behavior. Courtesy of Tirtha Banerjee

The National Science Foundation has approved $250,000 in funding for iFireNet, an international network of networks designed to catalyze and accelerate research on the prediction and management of wildland fires. The consortium, based at UCI, will address the fundamental knowledge gaps in the science and engineering aspects of wildfires with the goal of minimizing damage to life, nature and property from increasingly frequent and severe blazes.

“Wildfire risk has grown significantly in recent years due to climate-driven changes in temperature and precipitation patterns combined with human-induced transformation to the natural landscape and more building in the wildland-urban interface,” said iFireNet principal investigator Tirtha Banerjee, UCI assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering. “iFireNet will connect clusters of experts in academia, government agencies, non-profit organizations and the private sector in the United States and around the world to tackle this most complex of problems facing humanity today.”

Banerjee refers to the new organization as a “network of networks” since it joins previously existing interdisciplinary research networks into a larger consortium. Countries currently involved are the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, with participation of researchers from Portugal, Italy, Spain, New-Zealand, Norway and Spain. iFireNet researchers will combine knowledge and resources in the study of wildfire behavior, prescribed fire science, canopy-to-landscape scale forest disturbance and the coupling of fire with weather and the climate. The network will create synergy among complementary experiments in different locations using a standardized protocol to collect, interpret and share data.

The scientists will develop a basis for fire model intercomparisons and benchmarks for simulations across multiple scales. “We will also design a unified training module for wildfire science that adapts the best practices of local knowledge but can be translated into the international setting,” said Banerjee, who offers a course called “The Science and Engineering of Wildfires” at UCI.

“Bridging the science and engineering of fire prediction and control and understanding the short- and long-term impacts of fires on the landscape, such as soil erosion, landslide potential and water quality due to released chemicals, need an integrated approach which the iFireNet consortium aims to initiate towards a larger effort,” said co-principal investigator Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, UCI Distinguished Professor of civil & environmental engineering. Other co-P.I.s include Michael Gollner at UC Berkeley, David Blunck at Oregon State University and Lauren Lowman at Wake Forest University.

iFireNet is funded by the NSF’s Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations (AccelNet) program, which is designed to accelerate the process of scientific discovery and prepare the next generation of U.S. researchers for multiteam international collaborations. The AccelNet program supports strategic linkages among U.S. research networks and complementary networks abroad that will leverage research and educational resources to tackle grand scientific challenges that require significant coordinated international efforts.