School Welcomes Ernesto Alvarado


Ernesto Alvarado is one of fourteen new faculty members recently recruited by the School; he was appointed Research Associate Professor of Wildland Fire Science in July 2009 following a nationwide search.  He grew up in a small rural town in the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico, and holds a BS from the Agricultural University of Chapingo and an MS in silviculture and forest management from the Postgraduate College near Mexico City.  His PhD is from the UW College of Forest Resources in 1992, with dissertation research on “Large Forest Fires: An analysis using extreme value theory and robust statistics approaches.”  From 1992-2009, he was a senior research scientist with the College, collaborating with the USDA Forest Service Pacific NW Research Station’s Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team in Seattle, and in his faculty position he continues this collaboration.

Alvarado’s teaching and research interests include a wide variety of topics in the forest fire sciences, including biomass combustion, fire ecology, fire management and policies, fire use, smoke emissions, climate change, tropical forestry, landscape ecology, international forestry, modeling, and traditional ecological knowledge.  His current research includes projects through the Americas on fuel characterization, developing fire management tools to evaluate landscape-scale fire hazard, managing wildland fuel and fire in a changing climate, fire regimes of tropical ecosystems, biomass combustion and emissions from land use change in the Amazon forest, and traditional ecological knowledge.

Climate change effects are an increasingly important area of study for fire researchers, says Alvarado.  “A sure sign of the overall rise in temperatures in recent decades is an increased occurrence of larger and more severe fires. This is a major concern of agencies in charge of fire management throughout the world where fire suppression policies are still the norm. Although forest dynamics through the Americas have been associated to historical climate variation, soils, natural disturbances, and millenary practices of land use by indigenous people, fire is essential for the sustainability and health of forest ecosystems and human well-being. We need to develop and implement fire and forest management practices that lead to the creation of more resilient landscapes, especially those with high ecological, economic, and social value. The UW is one of the best places to train the new crop of highly qualified and diverse fire scientists and managers to meet these challenges.”

Alvarado’s research has been conducted across the Americas from the boreal forests of Alaska to the western U.S., Biosphere Reserves in Mexico, and the tropical forests of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay.  His strong interest in international fire science has led to visiting scientist positions, participation on wildfire policy advisory committees, and training and consulting work in Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, and Paraguay. He teaches courses in fire ecology and wildland fire management and offers graduate studies on science and technology in forest fires. He advises several SFR graduate students in wildland fire sciences and has also directed fire research by graduate students in engineering and statistics.

Alvarado says, “I was the first person to finish high school in my home town and did not know what to do with a high school diploma, so I kept going. The men of my generation, including my close family, emigrated to the U. S; seeing them flee affected me deeply. Education brought me to the same places as my countrymen; I know the value of education and I am committed to help advance higher education among under-represented populations.” His interest in promoting student diversity at the UW has led to collaboration with the UW’s Office of Minority Affairs and his appointment, representing the College of the Environment, to the UW’s Diversity Council.

Alvarado is married to Ariadna Aguirre and lives in Seattle. They have two sons, Alonso, an architect who studied at the UW and the University of Illinois, and David, an engineering student at the University of Rochester.  

Associate Research Professor Ernesto Alvarado. Photo: Mary Levin.

Smoke plume from Alaska forest fire. Photo: Bob Vihanek, USDA Forest Service