A new AXA Research Chair in Wildfires and Climate has been awarded by the AXA Research Fund to Associate Professor Apostolos Voulgarakis of the School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the Technical University of Crete for a period of 5 years. This is only the second time an AXA Chair is awarded to a researcher in Greece and the first AXA Chair hosted at TUC. The funded research will focus on wildfires and climate.
The consequences of climate change have never been as substantial and visible in such a wide range of places around the world. The Boreal and Arctic regions, located in the highest latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, is being hit harder and at a faster pace than ever before. In the past few years, as the Northern Hemisphere has experienced extreme and unprecedented heatwaves, high-latitude regions have seen a growing number of wildfires. They are occurring more frequently and on a wider scale, with the potential to become even more dramatic in the future as permafrost thawing exposes more areas to burning. The rapidly changing face of wildfires has become one of the most pressing issues facing our planet, threatening the balance of the global Earth system.
Dr. Voulgarakis is an atmospheric scientist specializing in the study of wildfires. With the AXA Chair in Wildfires and Climate, hosted at the School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the Technical University of Crete he aims to pursue cutting-edge research on the linkages between wildfires and climate, and to lead to major advances in our understanding of how fires can shape the future of our climate. The particular focus of the Chair will be on high-latitude fires, which have been identified as a particularly threatening aspect for the balance of the Earth system. Especially the “peat mega-fires,” which are the largest fires on Earth and can become more frequent in the future, release vast amounts of carbon that are stored in the soils, with the potential to alter the climate drastically.
The lack of accurate tools, including a representation of peatland fires in the current models for simulating and predicting the Earth System, is one of the major issues that Dr. Voulgarakis aspires to address through his research programme.
As part of his AXA Chair, Dr. Voulgarakis and his team have designed an innovative research programme using a unique combination of novel fire modelling, state-of-the-art Earth system modelling, satellite and in situ observations, and suitable machine learning techniques. This programme will be a step-change in the way we understand and model the Earth system, with the potential to transform a variety of disciplines in the field. It will also impact a variety of sectors that would benefit from better wildfire, climate, and air quality forecasting around the world – for industry, policy making, and society at large.
Dr. Voulgarakis’s ultimate purpose is to create a global, internationally connected Centre of excellence in the Mediterranean for research on global climate and wildfires.