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William M. Jolly

Research Ecologist
Fire, Fuel and Smoke
5775 US West Highway 10
Missoula, MT 59808
United States
Current Research

Dr. Jolly's research is focused in three main areas:

  1. Physiological controls of flammability in living plants
  2. Modeling wildland fire potential and behavior.
  3. Science delivery of spatial wildland fire potential information.

Recent Publications:

Jolly, W. Matt; Cochrane, Mark A.; Freeborn, Patrick H.; Holden, Zachary A.; Brown, Timothy J.; Williamson, Grant J.; Bowman, David M. J. S. 2015. Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013. Nature Communications. 6: 7537.

Jolly, W. Matt; Hadlow, Ann M.; Huguet, Kathleen. 2014. De-coupling seasonal changes in water content and dry matter to predict live conifer foliar moisture content. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 23(4): 480-489.

Past Research
Dr. Jolly's past work was more focused on global phenology and productivity. Particularly, he developed a globally-applicable model of vegetation foliar phenology that has been widely used in phenology and climate change research (Jolly et. al. 2005). Additionally, he leverage global vegetation and weather data to assess long-term changes in global land surface net primary productivity (Nemani et. al. 2003).

Further reading:
Nemani, R.R.;Keeling, C.D.;Hashimoto, H.; Jolly, W.M.;Piper, S.C.;Tucker, C.J.;Myneni, R.B.;Running, S.W.; 2003; Climate-Driven Increases in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 1982 to 1999. Science 300(5625) 1560-1563. doi: 10.1126/science.1082750

Jolly, W.M.; Nemani, R.R.; Running, S.W.; 2005. A generalized, bioclimatic index to predict foliar phenology in response to climate. Global Change Biology 11(4) 619-632, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2005.00930.x

Stockli, R.; Rutishauser, T.; Dragoni, D.; O'Keefe, J.; Thornton, P. E.; Jolly, M.; Lu, L.; Denning, A. S. 2008. Remote sensing data assimilation for a prognostic phenology model. Journal of Geophysical Research. 113: G04021, doi:10.1029/2008JG000781.
Research Interest

Dr. Jolly's research interests are diverse but they generally focus in two primary areas: physiological controls of live plant combustion and fire danger assessment research.

Much is know about how fires ignite and spread through dead plant biomass but very little is known about how living plants burn. He is interested in describing the physiological constraints to live fuel flammability and better understanding how we can assess the fire potential in live vegetation. Most of the fires throughout the country happen in mixtures of living and dead plants, so it is important to understand the factors that lead to intense and / or rapidly spreading fires. If one can define the physiological criteria that lead to elevated flammability, one can better plan for and respond to wildland fires. Further, it is important to understand how these characteristics are altered when forests are disturbed by insects such as the Mountain Pine Beetle. This new knowledge is critical to providing managers the information they need to best manage public lands throughout the world.

Second, basic knowledge of the fire potential must be translated into metrics that fire managers can use for fire planning and wildfire response. Therefore his second main research interest revolves around modeling and mapping key factors that drive changes in wildland fire potential across landscapes. He has have developed models and systems that can use weather and fuels data to map changes in fire potential and we have made this information available to local, state and federal fire managers throughout the country through the Wildland Fire Assessment System.

Example Publications:

Jolly, W. Matt; Parsons, Russell A.; Hadlow, Ann M.; Cohn, Greg M.; McAllister, Sara S.; Popp, John B.; Hubbard, Robert M.; Negron, Jose F. 2012. Relationships between moisture, chemistry, and ignition of Pinus contorta needles during the early stages of mountain pine beetle attack. Forest Ecology and Management. 269: 52-59.
Why This Research Is Important

Wildland fires are now more common and they burn more area than any time in the record past. New knowledge and new tools are needed to address these changing conditions. Dr. Jolly's research is at the forefront of science and is advancing our knowledge of the conditions lead to extreme and costly wildfires. His work has the potential to help address a critical knowledge gap that could improve our ability to manage landscapes for resilience.

Read more about why this work is needed:
Finney, Mark A.; Cohen, Jack D.; McAllister, Sara S.; Jolly, W. Matt. 2012. On the need for a theory of wildland fire spread. International Journal of Wildland Fire. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 22: 25-36.
  • University of Montana, Phd, Forestry, 2004
  • University of Virginia, Bachelor Of Arts, Environmental Sciences with emphasis in Ecology, 2000
  • Community College of the Air Force, Associates Of Applied Science, Electronic Systems Technologies, 1995
Professional Organizations
  • Member,  American Meteorological Society,  2005 - Current
  • Member,  American Geophysical Union,  2004 - Current
  • Member,  International Association of Wildland Fire,  2003 - Current
Awards & Recognition
  • Paper of the Year, Environmental Modeling and Software, 2005
  • Interdisciplinary Award, Dept of Environmental Science, University of Virgina, 2000
  • Fellowship, Montana Space Grant Consortium, NASA, 2000
  • Chamberlain Award, Dept of Environmental Science, University of Virgina, 1999
  • Eagle Award for Academic Excellence, Aerospace Education Foundation, 1995
  • Eagle Scout, 1990
    Troop 336, North Wilkesboro, NC
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Decreasing number of rainy days in summer has increased western wildfire

Year: 2018
New research shows that significant declines in summer precipitation, and lengthening summer dry spells, are major drivers of the increase in fire activity.

An update of the National Fire Danger Rating System

Year: 2018
The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) is a system that allows fire managers to estimate today's or tomorrow's fire danger for a given area. It combines the effects of existing and expected states of selected fire danger factors into one or more qualitative or numeric indices that reflect an...

WildfireSAFE: Real-Time Data to Improve Wildfire Management

Year: 2020
When responding to a wildfire, fire managers need to consider a lot of information, like terrain in the area, vegetation conditions, and weather forecasts. When this information is spread across multiple data sources and web platforms, it can be more difficult to understand fire hazards and prioriti...

Mountain pine beetle effects on fire behavior

Year: 2011
Studies are shining light on how pine beetles affect wildfire.

Climate-induced Variations in Global Wildfire Danger from 1979 to 2013

Year: 2015
Identifying the driving factors of contemporary wildfire activity changes to ensure that wildfires are effectively managed to promote healthy ecosystems while minimizing negative socio-economic impacts.