Published: 05/14/2024

By Violet Glickman

Recent large, prolonged wildfires have altered soil chemistry, impacting water contamination, air quality, and plant growth. However, these concerning changes are not well-monitored or taken seriously enough into account for recovery efforts or risk assessments, Stanford researchers find.

“Global increases in fire severity and frequency demand that these persisting knowledge gaps are addressed to help manage wildfire risks to human health, soil health, and ecosystem services,” write the authors of a new publication in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.

Two postdoctoral researchers working in Scott Fendorf’s lab at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Alandra Lopez and Claudia Avila, set out to bridge this knowledge gap alongside colleagues from Colorado State University. Lopez is a Stanford/LSHTM Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellow supported by the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health and Woods Institute for the Environment.

Their review calls for improved techniques to monitor soil and ecosystem changes following wildfires by integrating organic and inorganic chemistry. Enhanced monitoring could guide treatment of drinking water from affected areas, support reforestation, and protect firefighters and other first responders during wildfires and cleanup efforts, according to an article about the publication in the StanfordReport.

By integrating organic and inorganic chemistry, Lopez and Avila found that metals within soils can undergo chemical reactions to form more toxic compounds, which can greatly affect air and water quality, and that wildfires can release more carbon dioxide than anticipated. 

Improved monitoring and modeling of these chemical changes could better predict wildfire impacts and inform strategies to protect lives, property, and natural resources. Understanding the complex interactions between fire, landscape, and soil chemistry is crucial for managing wildfire risks and supporting ecosystem recovery.To learn more about this research and the effects of wildfires on soil composition and the health implications of such findings, read the original story at StanfordReport.