Stefan Doerr and Cristina Santín - 31 Jan 2018

Stefan Doerr and Cristina Santín, Swansea University, United Kingdom.

"Understanding wildfire impacts and the need to ‘see the flames’: insights from two decades of international research at Swansea University"


Wildfires have shaped the Earth’s surface for ~400 Million years. Currently 3-4.5 million km2 burn globally per year, an area nearly ten times the size of Spain. Many landscapes have therefore evolved with naturally occurring fire, while in others, such as some cultural landscapes of Europe, fire has gone beyond its natural role. What remains common, however, is that fire can lead to profound direct and indirect changes to the ecological, hydrological and biogeochemical functioning of the land surface. 

Our knowledge to date on these fire impacts is based largely on examining burned areas sometime after a fire and comparing these with ‘control’ unburned areas, supplemented by small-scale or laboratory-based burning experiments. These have led to many important insights on fire impacts, but few researchers have been able to observe fires directly and therefore important gaps remain in understanding the behaviour and immediate impacts of wildfires.

In this presentation we will explore the main impacts of wildfire on soils and hydrology, with examples from two decades of post-fire research in the Mediterranean, Australia and the USA, followed by insights from our recent research where we did ‘see the flames’.  In this novel work we used severe experimental wildfires to isolate and quantify directly the processes and immediate impacts of fire on the carbon cycle and water quality in fire-prone regions of Australia, Canada and Spain.


Stefan H. Doerr is Professor of Physical Geography and leads the Environmental Dynamics Research Group at Swansea University, UK. He studied Geography, Geology and Botany at Tubingen University (Germany), and his PhD (University of Wales, UK) focused on the effects of wildfire on soils and hydrology in Portugal. He has investigated for over two decades the environmental impacts of wildfires in Europe, Australia, and North America. He has held collaborative research positions at the CSIRO in Canberra (Australia), Universitat de València (Spain) and the US Geological Survey (Denver, USA), which focused on the relationships between fire severity, fire frequency and post-fire responses of burned terrain. He has published 140 international journal publications with >6200 citations and is Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal of Wildland Fire.

Cristina Santín is Senior Lecturer in the Biosciences Department at Swansea University. She received her PhD in Biology in 2009 (University of Oviedo, Spain), which focused on the impact of human activities on the soils and sediments of estuarine environments. In 2011 she decided to move her topic of research to wildfires, a subject she has always been passionate about, and joined Prof. Doerr and the Environmental Dynamics Research Group at Swansea. Her current research focuses on the effects of fire on carbon dynamics and, also, on fire impacts on soils, waters and social perceptions of fire. She currently holds a prestigious Sêr Cymru II COFUND fellowship which aims to advance our knowledge on the effects of prescribed fire in two fundamental ecosystem services: water supply and carbon storage. She has published 24 international journal publications and is Associate Editor for the JGR-Biosgeosciences.