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Forecasting live fuel moisture content, the on/off switch for forest fire

Funding period: 2020-2023

Funding agency: Australian Research Council Linkage

Project leader, researchers and collaborators: Dr Rachael Nolan (Lead), Assoc Prof Marta Yebra (co-lead, ANU), Prof Matthias Boer, Prof Albert Van Dijk (ANU), Prof Brendan Choat, Dist Prof Belinda Medlyn, Prof Víctor Resco de Dios (Lleida), Prof Luigi Renzullo (ANU)

Project summary: Bushfires have a large social and economic impact on Australia. For example, the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires were Australia’s worst natural disaster, with 173 lives lost, over 2000 homes destroyed, and the economic damage estimated at over $4.4B. In 2013 bushfires again destroyed 203 homes, this time in the Blue Mountains. Bushfires also significantly impact on water resources, biodiversity and the capacity of forests to sequester carbon. Our research aims to develop, for the first time, physically based forecasts of the dryness of live forest fuels. These forecasts will provide an early warning system of the risk of bushfires, and facilitate improved outcomes for prescribed burning programs. These outcomes will ultimately aid fire managers in protecting lives and assets. Our fuel dryness model can also be applied to assessing long term changes in the likelihood of bushfires, which is critically important for understanding the risks posed by climate change to forests.