Bushfire research improves prediction

By Joanna Egan 17 June 2010
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
New research could improve the management and prediction of bushfires.

NEW RESEARCH FROM THE Bureau of Meteorology offers new possibilities for predicting conditions that are favourable to bushfires. This knowledge could be used to mitigate fires like those of Black Saturday in 2009.

According to lead researcher, physicist Dr Andrew Dowdy, wind speed and humidity levels are ranked higher than temperature in terms of dangerous bushfire weather conditions.

Andrew hopes that his findings will lead to better bushfire preparation and more effective fire management. “A greater understanding of the influence of weather on fire will lead to a reduced response time to fires and therefore a reduction in the damage they cause,” he says.

The research, which was carried out in conjunction with the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, examines the occurrence of fires caused by dry-lightning (lightning that occurs with little or no rainfall). He and his team developed a method for predicting dry-lightning in Australia based on the chance of virga (rainfall that evaporates before it hits the ground).

The team established that low humidity plays the largest role in determining whether lightning will cause a fire, but once alight, wind speed influences a bushfire more than humidity and temperature.

“In future, we hope people will be thinking, ‘Tomorrow is going to be windy, dry and hot so it could be dangerous for bushfires’ rather than just focussing on the temperature,” he says.

Supporting science

The research was presented for the first time at Fresh Science, a national science forum that identifies Australia’s top emerging scientists and releases their research to the public. Andrew is one of 16 early-career scientists to be recognised at the forum this year.

“If you want to see your research used and see it actually have some value, it’s essential to be able to communicate it well,” says Andrew. All of the winners came together in Melbourne last week to present their research to the media, schools, scientists and government bodies. “It’s been fascinating hearing about all the new research that’s happening,” Andrew says.

“It makes you think about how the future might be different once these technologies find applications and become part of our lives.”