Scientist wins $100,000 grant to study how climate change affects forest fires

Cody - What would Yellowstone look like if many of its forests burned, and never grew back? A scientist is studying that scenario, and others created by climate change. She plans to make pictures of the future landscapes available to the public and to Congress if they want it. Dr. Monica Turner was awarded $100,000 in Cody Friday to make that happen.

The 1988 wildfires in and around Yellowstone made headlines around the world. And, the world is still watching as the wildfires continue in and around the park. Dr. Monica Turner was studying Yellowstone forests in 1988.

She said it was, “…nothing less than shocking .”

Turner studied the forests and fires of the Greater Yellowstone area for the next 30 years. She was shocked again in 2016, when a young forest that grew from the ashes of the 1988 wildfire, caught fire again. This time, the Maple Fire burned so intensely, little was left but ash on the ground.

Turner said it may be a picture of the future.

She received a $100,000 scientific grant in Cody Friday to picture the future. The grant is called the Camp Monaco Prize.

Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Monica Turner, explained, “With the Camp Monaco Prize there are three main objectives that we have. One is to extend some of our work that uses state of the art computer simulation models to predict what might happen in the future under alternative scenarios: climate warming, precipitation patterns…things like that.”

Under the worst case scenario, Turner says many of Yellowstone’s forests might not grow back after wildfires. Turner said the prize will allow her team to photograph Yellowstone vistas next year.

She said, “What we would do is manipulate those photographs digitally, based on the results of what our models show the landscape would look like in the future.”

Turner said she wanted to show the possible changes to Yellowstone and Draper Natural Museum visitors, and congressmen, if they want it.

Turner’s project was the third funded by the Camp Monaco Prize. The Prize project was created on the 100th anniversary of Buffalo Bill’s hunt with the Prince Albert I of Monaco. Prince Albert II’s Foundation helped fund the 2013 Camp Monaco Prize, and Albert came to Cody to attend the award ceremony.

Draper Natural History Museum advisor Dr. Timothy White brought up the idea to his friend, the Ambassador from Monaco, while they were having dinner in 2011.

White said he remarked, “You think the current Prince Albert would like to come? And the ambassador said, ‘I believe he might.’”

The Draper Natural History Museum and the University of Wyoming helped fund the first and second awards in 2013 and 2016. The Baron Collier Foundation helped fund the 2019 Prize.

White pointed out Draper founding Curator Dr. Charles Preston organized the establishment of the Prize, and chaired the scientific committees that selected the winning science projects.

White said the Prize commemorates Prince Albert’s 1913 visit, “But now, it’s a way to mark the importance of science in the Yellowstone ecosystem.”

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