Scientists working to reduce bushfire risk

Scenes from the devastating bushfires. Pictures: Getty
Scenes from the devastating bushfires. Pictures: Getty

RESEARCHERS hope enhanced bushfire risk models can bolster prevention efforts after a summer of devastation across Australia.

Scientists from around the world have gathered in Fremantle for the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society national conference, with bushfire risk and management a key focus.

More than 30 people have been killed and thousands of homes lost in extreme conditions across much of the country.

The federal government has proposed a royal commission into the bushfire crisis while NSW and Victoria are conducting their own inquiries.

Scientists such as Hamish Clarke, a research fellow at the University of Wollongong and the University of Western Sydney, are also working to develop better forecasting models that can feed into how authorities mitigate risks.

Firefighters on the scene of a bushfire which threatened lives and homes in Perth. Picture: DFES incident photographer Evan Collis

Dr Clarke presented a study at the AMOS conference into how global patterns in fuel moisture – the dryness of vegetation in forests and woodlands – relate to projected fire activity under climate change.

“As it turns out, there’s a pretty strong link,” he told AAP.

“Because we were able to build those links between dryness and fire activity, we were then able to ask how those patterns were changing under the climate change scenarios.

“Certainly with fuel loads, vegetation is obviously really complicated because it’s a living thing and there’s many different plants, and the way that the climate interacts, it’s not just about heat and rain; it’s about CO2 and nutrients.”

Dr Clarke is also involved with the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub, a collaboration between several universities that is expected to provide advice to the state’s independent inquiry into the deadly bushfire season.

“There’s still a lot that we don’t know,” Dr Clarke said.

“We’ve relied a lot on some metrics that have some limitations, so there’s been some great new work that’s kind of expanding them, building on them and adding new ones.

“There’s a lot of things we’re working on that I think can make a difference to our understanding and hopefully to how well we live with fire and manage fire.”

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