Montana State University

Montana wildfires to be discussed during April 11 Cafe Scientifique

March 3, 2013 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN -"Wildfires in Montana's Past and Its Future" will be the focus of the Cafe Scientifique to be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the Baxter Ballroom in downtown Bozeman.

The speaker will be Cathy Whitlock, director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems and professor of earth sciences at Montana State University. She will talk about wildfires as the next fire season approaches, what we know from the past, what we can expect in the future, and what we should do.

Climate change and human activities are altering fire regimes around the world and especially in the western U.S. In the last 20 years, Montana has seen larger and more severe fires than in recent history, raising scientific concerns about their cause and precedence, Whitlock said. Two pictures are emerging: Studies of the past show that fires are a natural part of most ecosystems, but that current fire activity may be exceeding anything in the last 10,000 years. Future climate projections suggest that rising temperatures will continue to increase wildfire size and severity, posing ever greater risk for human health and safety and forest recovery.

Whitlock is nationally and internationally recognized for her scholarly contributions and leadership activities in the field of past climatic and environmental change. She has published more than 140 reviewed journal articles and book chapters on this topic. She was recently named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a leading scientific organization that advances science around the world and across all disciplines.

Whitlock's current research sites extend from Yellowstone and the western U.S. to New Zealand, Tasmania, and Patagonia. Since her arrival at MSU in 2004, Whitlock has built a successful research and teaching program, and the MSU Paleoecology Lab supports post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates and visiting scientists from around the world.  Her research has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, Joint Fire Sciences Program, National Park Service, Department of Energy, USDA Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. She is past president of the American Quaternary Association and serves on national and international advisory committees concerned with climate change.

Cafe Scientifique, co-sponsored by Montana's INBRE and COBRE programs, provides a relaxed setting for people to learn about current scientific topics. The concept started in England in 1998 and has spread to a handful of locations in the United States. Following a short presentation by a scientific expert, the majority of time is reserved for questions, answers and lively discussion.

Montana INBRE and COBRE are each an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant numbers P20GM103474 (INBRE) and GM103500 (COBRE).

For more information, contact Laurie Howell at (406) 994-7531 or For more information about the Cafe Scientifique concept, check the Web at

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or