Montana State University

Online films document research on fires, humans and climate change

October 9, 2012 -- MSU News Service

MSU professors Dennis Aig and Cathy Whitlock hold tubes used for collecting columns of lake mud in Tasmania. Aig and Whitlock are part of a team researching and documenting and communicating the history of fire in the region as part of a National Science Foundation project.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN--A new series of short films helps citizens of Montana and the Rocky Mountain West understand how scientists study the impact of fire on ecosystems.

The films document a National Science Foundation-funded project called Wildfire PIRE - - an international partnership among Montana State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Idaho, the University of Tasmania (Australia) and the University of Auckland (New Zealand) along with other universities and agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. first traveled to Tasmania and New Zealand to collect data on the impacts of wildfire. Using tree ring cores and columns of mud drawn from lakes, the researchers can piece together the history of fire in different landscapes.

Because the place now known as New Zealand was one of the last areas on Earth to be colonized by humans, the researchers can compare the fire history of its 700 years of human settlement to the 10,000 to 13,000 years of human settlement in the western United States. The information then allows the team to study whether changes in fire patterns might be connected to humans and their use of the land or climate change or both.

The data from the Southern Hemisphere will also help researchers make predictions about the impacts of fire in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

The films about the project are online at They are suitable for all ages and also give young people a glimpse into the scientific process and how researchers and university students do their work. Classroom teachers who are unable to access the films online can request a DVD by contacting Todd Kipfer with the Montana Institute on Ecosystems (IOE) at or (406) 994-7977.

The films were produced by Danny Schmidt and Savannah Lozier in MSU's Natural History Filmmaking program under the direction of Dennis Aig, and are being disseminated as an outreach partnership of the Institute on Ecosystems, Montana NSF EPSCoR, the science and technology development program, and MSU Extended University.

Contact: Todd Kipfer, Montana Institute on Ecosystems, (406) 994-7977,