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

Chief investigators: Nolan, R. H (WSU)., Yebra, M. (ANU), Boer, M. (WSU), van Dijk, A. (ANU), Choat, B. (WSU), Medlyn, B. (WSU), Resco de Dios, V. (international), Renzullo L. (ANU) Post-doctoral research fellows: Anne Griebal (WSU), Nicolas Younes Cardenas (ANU) HDR student: William McNeice

ARC Linkage project LP190100436

Funding Agency: NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, ACT Parks and Conservation

Period 2020-2023

Project Description: Dry forest fuels are a precursor of large bushfires. This research aims to develop, for the first time, a model to reliably forecast the moisture content of live fuels (e.g. the foliage and fine branches of shrubs and trees). This will be achieved by combining (i) satellite-derived estimates of live fuel moisture content, (ii) forecasts of soil moisture, and (iii) plant physiological responses to soil dryness. Forecasts of live fuel moisture content will deliver an early warning system of the risk of bushfires. These forecasts will also facilitate improved planning of prescribed burns: if fuels are too dry there is a risk of burns escaping, conversely, if fuels are too wet there is a risk that burns will fail to meet objectives.

Quantifying forest mortality after unprecedented drought and bushfires in Eastern Australia (Hermon Slade Foundation), 2020-2023

Chief investigators: Nolan, R. H (WSU)., Collins, L. (international) Choat, B. (WSU), Medlyn, B. (WSU), Griebal, A., Boer, M.

HDR student: Simin Rahmani

Project Description: Over 7 million hectares were burnt by bushfires across eastern and south-eastern Australia during the unprecedented 2019-20 fire season. The fires affected large swathes of eucalypt forests and woodlands, which are typically highly resilient to fire. The majority of eucalypt species can resprout new leaves, even after high intensity fire, facilitating rapid post-fire recovery. However, many of these forests have been subject to the lowest rainfall and highest temperatures on record preceding the fires. Widespread reports of canopy death due to drought and heat-waves have emerged, even in forests that remained unburnt. This raises important questions regarding the capacity of these usually resilient forests to recover from the combined impacts of fire, drought and heatwaves. We seek to address the following questions: (i) to what extent does severe drought limit the capacity of eucalypts to resprout following fire? (ii) are species at the dry edge of their climatic range more vulnerable to mortality following severe drought and fire? and (iii) what are the impacts of the combined drought, heatwaves and fire on above-ground carbon stocks in eucalypt forests?

Impacts of drought stress on bushfire risk (Innovations Connections and RedEye), 2021-2022

Chief investigators: Nolan, R. H (WSU), Boer, M. (WSU), Griebal, A., (WSU), Choat, B. (WSU), Medlyn, B, Collins, L. (international), Cawson, J. (UoM)

Post-doctoral research fellow: Chris Gordon

Project Description: The fire season of 2019/20 was unprecedented in magnitude and in the area of forest burnt at high severity (Collins et al., 2021). The fires were the result of an extended drought which primed the forested landscapes of eastern Australia to burn when exposed to dangerous fire weather and ignition. Fuels were in a critically dry state, with many areas the driest on record. Normally wet parts of the landscape, such as gullies and rainforests, which usually act as fuel breaks to slow or halt the spread of bushfires, also dried out and burned in 2019/20. This project will identify the conditions under which the fire resistance of usually wet parts of the landscape is eroded.