Understanding and Mitigating Hazards

Project Status:

The predictive model developed by this project will quantify the optimisation of environmental service outcomes for water and carbon management against the effectiveness of the fuel reductions outputs. This will assist fire and land management agencies by giving them greater confidence in forecasting results for their actions.

Ultimately, this project will move research and management capabilities to its next logical focus – building a predictive model and framework for planning of prescribed burns.

Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes - project overview

Fuel reduction burning is often patchy as a result of fuel and climatic conditions and inherent landscape-related features such as topography and soil moisture, with a strong sampling design required to capture this variation. With bushfires becoming more intense the larger they become, affecting soils and vegetation more. It is unknown if the same situation arises with prescribed burning.

The relationships between burn size and soil, water, vegetation and fuel outcomes has yet to be quantified. The ability to predict the effects of prescribed burns of different size across landscapes is currently negligible.

To design an a priori sampling scheme of prescribed burns with appropriate statistical power, it is important to define what a ‘small’ fire is compared to a ‘big’ fire. Logically, larger fires will need to be sampled at a different scale and frequency than smaller fires.

To determine historical fire size, data relating to fire size, location and timing for the last 10 years will be used from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Patterns in fire size and timing that will provide valuable information for the project’s sampling design are emerging.

Sampling has been undertaken in sites in mixed-species eucalypt forest in southern Victoria, the ACT and western and southern NSW. This sampling will determine the effect of prescribed fire on changes in fuel load, carbon pools and tree water use. The sampling scheme investigates ‘burn units’ – pairs of sites that have been measured and compared. The pair of sites can be burnt and unburnt areas near each other, sampled at the same time, or are a single site sampled at different times before and after prescribed burning. Nearly 50 burn units have been sampled across south eastern Australia. The data collected has been used to test if environmental variability is adequately captured for measurements made at different spatial scales and if fire size affects the optimal number of samples required for characterising burnt and unburnt areas.

The predictive model developed by this project will quantify the optimisation of environmental service outcomes for water and carbon management against the effectiveness of the fuel reductions outputs. This will assist fire and land management agencies by giving them greater confidence in forecasting results for their actions.

Ultimately, this project will move research and management capabilities to its next logical focus – building a predictive model and framework for planning of prescribed burns.

This will help predict the effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads, broad vegetation types and carbon and water potential (for example, capacity for carbon sequestration, water yield) of forests at a manageable spatial scale.

8 February, 2017
New journal articles and reports on CRC research are available online.
13 October, 2016
New journal articles and reports on CRC research are available online.
14 September, 2016
New journal articles and reports on CRC research are available online.
Measuring fuel loads in burnt plots.
14 July, 2016
This is the July 2016 newsletter from the Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes for fuel reduction, carbon, water and vegetation outcomes project, with updates for project end-users.
Bethany and Dean from ACT Parks and Conservation Service measuring coarse woody debris before the burn, in the Cotter Catchment, ACT.
26 June, 2015
For our research project we are visiting a number of prescribed burns across south-east Australia to collect precise empirical data to describe how each burn affects fuel load, soil properties, carbon and water.
Tina Bell (2nd from right) with her University of Sydney students at RFS HQ.
7 May, 2015
In late March, a group of senior undergraduate students from the University of Sydney visited the NSW Rural Fire Service headquarters in Sydney to learn about their operational and research capabilities.
Year Type Citation
2017 Report Gharun, M., Possell, M. & Bell, T. Calibration of water balance using digital photography. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2016 Journal Article Jenkins, M. E., Bell, T., Poon, L. Fan, Aponte, C. & Adams, M. A. Production of pyrogenic carbon during planned fires in forests of East Gippsland, Victoria. Forest Ecology and Management 373, 9-16 (2016).
2016 Report Possell, M., Gharun, M. & Bell, T. Application of statistical techniques to pyrolysis-GC-MS data from soil to identify the impact of fire. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2016 Report Bell, T. Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes for fuel reduction, carbon, water and vegetation outcomes: Annual project report 2015-2016. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2015 Journal Article Dijkstra, F. & Adams, M. A. Fire eases imbalances of nitrogen and phosphorus in woody plants. Ecosystems 18, 769-779 (2015).
2015 Journal Article Possell, M., Jenkins, M. E., Bell, T. & Adams, M. A. Emissions from prescribed fires in temperate forest in south-east Australia: implications for carbon accounting. Biogeosciences 12, (2015).
2015 Journal Article Gharun, M., Turnbull, T. L., Pfautsch, S. & Adams, M. A. Stomatal structure and physiology do not explain differences in water use among montane eucalypts. Oecologia 177, 1171-1181 (2015).
2015 Journal Article Gharun, M., Turnbull, T. L., Henry, J. & Adams, M. A. Mapping spatial and temporal variation in tree water use with an elevation model and gridded temperature data. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 200, 249-257 (2015).
2015 Journal Article Gharun, M., Amzi, M. & Adams, M. A. Short-term forecasting of water yield from forested catchments after bushfire: a case study from south-east Australia. Water 7, 599-614 (2015).
2015 Presentation Possell, M. Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes for fuel reduction, carbon, water and vegetation outcomes. (2015).
2015 Report Bell, T. Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes for fuel reduction, carbon, water and vegetation outcomes: Annual project report 2014-2015. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Report Bell, T. Optimisation of Fuel Reduction Burning Regimes for Fuel Reduction Annual Report 2014. (2015).
Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes: Determining fire size
25 Aug 2014

Optimising fuel reduction burning at the landscape- or catchment-scale requires knowledge of the effects of fire size on key variables – Fuel load, Vegetation and Carbon and Water cycles. 

Key Topics:
Spatial Variability After Prescribed Burning: Effects on Vegetation and Soil Properties
18 Aug 2015

Optimisation of prescribed burning requires a strong understanding of the underlying variability of fuel, vegetation and soil.

Mana Gharun Conference Poster 2016
14 Aug 2016

This project focuses on improving the capability of land managers to use prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads, while at the same time mitigating the risks of loss of water yield and carbon sequestration capacity. 

Key Topics:
Assessing the impact of fire using soil and pyrolisis-GC-MS
30 Jun 2017

Soil organic matter has strong effects on soil properties such as water holding capacity, soil structure and stability, nutrient availability and cation exchange capacity. Bushfire can change these properties depending on intensity and duration of heating. Pyrolysis coupled to gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (pyr-GC-MS) is a novel technique that can been used for soil characterisation.

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