Student researcher

Reliable predictions of fuel load and condition (especially moisture content) are one of the highest order priorities for fire-fighting and land management agencies in Australia. Fuel load and condition are critical for predicting the spread and behaviour of bushfires, and have until now been largely assessed using visual or semi-quantitative guides, that have been in place for decades. Moving to a 21st century position, where fuel load and condition can be monitored in real time, at appropriate spatial scales, is a goal for most agencies. Achieving this will require considerable empirical, ground-based research to properly relate load and condition to climate/weather; topography; fire history; biological processes such as litter decomposition; and forest structure/type.

The purpose of this PhD research is to use empirical, ground-based research to investigate the effects of local topography on accession rates and fine fuel dynamics in sclerophyll eucalypt forests of south-eastern Australia. This project aims to support and help to improve existing fuel research and fuel models by tackling several of the key unknowns in predicting fuel load and condition and properly relate fuel dynamics to topography, forest type/structure, climate, fire history and biological processes such as litter decomposition. Specifically, this research seeks to: (a) assess the role of local topography on rates of litterfall production; (b) investigate the role of local topography on fuel decomposition and fuel accumulation rates; (c) analyse the role of topography on fuel moisture and availability; and (d) develop simple models and correction factors that can assist to predict fuel load and condition in real time, at appropriate spatial scales and accounting for topographic variations, such as aspect and elevation gradient.

A considerable number of sites located within sclerophyll forested areas will be measured across NSW, Victoria and ACT for a range of vegetation and topographic variables to look into the differences in accumulation patterns across the landscape. Therefore, the data and results of this project will be useful and applicable by a wide range of agencies and land managers to support fire management planning and decision making related with fuel loads in any similar forested landscape in Eastern Australia.