Assessment of pre-fire vulnerability and post-fire adaptation measures in the forests of the Western Himalayas: A socio-ecological study on the large forest fire of 2016 in Uttarakhand, India

Project description

Historically, fire has been used as a catalyst to drive ecosystem processes and ecosystem services in various biomes. The current fire activities across the globe are deviating from historical patterns due to rapid population growth, unsustainable resource extraction, and climate change. The altered patterns of fire activities can intensify the process of land degradation, affect forest health, and negatively impact the livelihood and well-being of forest-dependent societies.

The Himalayan mountain ranges are inherently vulnerable to a multitude of natural and anthropogenic disturbances due to their unique geographic location, ecological richness, and social marginalization of the population. Forest fires have been commonplace in the Himalayas as traditional societies have always used fire as a management tool for obtaining forest products and maintaining the natural cycle of forest production. However, changes in seasonal temperatures and precipitation due to climate change, coupled with unsustainable resource extraction and increased human activities around forests, have altered fire regimes in this region. In recent decades, the Western Himalayan Region (WHR) of India has seen a shift from small seasonal fires to frequent and large-scale fires that are difficult to control.

Himalayan forests can be thought of as a complex socio-ecological system (SES) where both nature and humans actively modify and influence each other through positive and negative human-environment interactions. Wildfires can lead to complex interactions between forest, fire, and people that may affect the vulnerability and resilience of an SES. Knowledge of the complex socio-ecological responses to wildfire can help predict an SES’s level of preparedness for future fires and disturbances.

Knowing how an ecosystem responds to disturbance can help identify opportunities and challenges for improving adaptive capacity and resilience. This thesis aims to assess the post-fire responses of forests and forest-dependent communities in the Western Himalayan Region of India. In 2016, the entire region experienced an extreme fire season that caused massive forest disturbances and changes in forest fire management and planning. Based on a case study of a large-scale fire, the thesis uses an interdisciplinary approach to investigate post-fire adaptation measures. To achieve the overall aim of the study, remote sensing-based geospatial mapping, stakeholder surveys and interviews, and forest inventory surveys will be used to synthesize the current states of post-fire landscapes in the WHR of India.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Dr. rer. nat. Somidh Saha
Advisor: Prof. Dr. Sebastian Schmidtlein (IfGG-KIT), Prof. Dr. Fabian Fassnacht (Freie Universität Berlin), Prof. Dr. P. K. Joshi (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Doctoral students at ITAS: see Doctoral studies at ITAS


Shruthi Gopirajan Andaladi Thekkethil, M.Sc.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-22292