Research leader

Research team

Dr Neil Burrows
Dr Neil Burrows Research Team
Prof Michael Douglas Research Team
Dr Andrew Edwards Research Team
Associate Professor Lindsay Hutley
A/Prof Lindsay Hutley Research Team
A/Prof Stefan Maier Research Team
Steve Sutton Research Team
Vanessa Adams
Dr Vanessa Adams Research Team
Prof Douglas Paton
Prof Douglas Paton Research Team
Cameron Yates
Cameron Yates Research Team
Kamaljit Sangha Research Team
Dominique Lynch Research Team

Northern Australia is an extensive area with a small population and minimal infrastructure. There is considerable summer rain (the ‘wet’) and very little in winter (the ‘dry’). In the ‘wet’, vegetation growth is considerable, producing abundant fine fuel. Temperature is relatively high all year, so that when the rain stops at the end of the ‘wet’, the fine fuels dry quickly and are extremely fire prone. One simple ignition in the latter half of the ‘dry’ can create a bushfire that will burn for months. Planned, or prescribed, burning is the main tool for halting bushfire by reducing fuel loads.

This project has built on existing work to create more sophisticated mapping and modelling tools. The information can be used for planning, operations, and suppression including summaries of past and present fire regimes.

The research team is applying this information and developing the Savanna Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework, to provide a standardised assessment report on fire regimes for all Australia’s savannas and rangelands.

The savanna burning research story has many components that all tie together and overlap. In parallel this project examines two significant programs:

  1. Satellite-derived mapping. The team has developed, and continues to develop, satellite-derived fire and habitat mapping to describe the extent, occurrence and severity of fire at various scales to assess fire effect in various habitats.
  2. Extensive long-term field sampling. The team has sampled savanna vegetation in detail on the ground at permanent sites for more than 20 years to understand the impacts of different fire management on the environment. A suite of permanent sites exist across the Kimberley, Cape York, the western Top End, and the Gulf region bordering Queensland and the Northern Territory that describe fuel accumulation and tree growth with respect to fire regimes.

There are many beneficiaries of a new Savanna Burning Methodology including Federal Department of Environment and Energy, numerous Indigenous Resource Agencies, all the northern land councils, the Indigenous Land Corporation, numerous pastoral lease holders, Queensland Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Western Australia and the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT.

Currently north Australia is generating over $30 million dollars annually through payments for ecosystem services on over 330,000 km2, an area which is still only 40% of the potential extent for these projects. The new methodology being developed will open the industry up to more of these stakeholders, particularly in East Arnhem Land and on Cape York, where it is sometimes more difficult to undertake prescribed burning until later in the season.

The Savanna Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework will gather all aspects of the research to date and provide end-users with a simple ability to monitor their fire management and evaluate its effects through time.

Year Type Citation
2019 Journal Article Sangha, K., Edwards, A. C. & Russell-Smith, J. Long-term solutions to improve emergency management services in remote communities in northern Australia. Australian Journal of Emergency Management 32, (2019).
2019 Journal Article Russell-Smith, J., Edwards, A. C., Sangha, K., Yates, C. P. & Gardener, M. Challenges for prescribed fire management in Australia’s fire-prone rangelands – the example of the Northern Territory. International Journal of Wildland Fire (2019). doi:
2019 Journal Article Evans, J. & Russell-Smith, J. Delivering effective savanna fire management for defined biodiversity conservation outcomes: an Arnhem Land case study. International Journal of Wildland Fire (2019). doi:
2019 Journal Article Russell-Smith, J. et al. Tree recruitment dynamics in fire-prone eucalypt savanna. Ecosphere 10, e02649 (2019).
2019 Report Edwards, A. C. Multi-scaled calibration of high-resolution burnt area and fire severity mapping - workshop report. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2019).
2018 Journal Article Russell-Smith, J. & Sangha, K. Emerging opportunities for developing a diversified land sector economy in Australia’s northern savannas. The Rangeland Journal 40, 315-330 (2018).
2018 Journal Article Setterfield, S. A., Rossiter-Rachor, N. & Adams, V. M. Navigating the fiery debate: the role of scientific evidence in eliciting policy and management responses for contentious plants in northern Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 24, 318-328 (2018).
2018 Journal Article Edwards, A. C., Russell-Smith, J. & Maier, S. A comparison and validation of satellite-derived fire severity mapping techniques in fire prone north Australian savannas: Extreme fires and tree stem mortality. Remote Sensing of Environment 206, 287-299 (2018).
2018 Journal Article Lynch, E., Russell-Smith, J., Edwards, A. C., Evans, J. & Yates, C. P. Incentivising fire management in Pindan (Acacia shrubland): A proposed fuel type for Australia's Savanna burning greenhouse gas emissions abatement methodology. Ecological Management & Restoration 19, 230-238 (2018).
2018 Report Setterfield, S. A. & Rossiter-Rachor, N. Savanna fire management and bushfire and natural hazard scenario planning for northern Australia annual project report part two: managing flammable high biomass grassy weeds. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2018).
2017 Journal Article Freeman, J., Edwards, A. C. & Russell-Smith, J. Fire-driven decline of endemic Allosyncarpia monsoon rainforests in Northern Australia. Forests 8, (2017).
2017 Journal Article Sangha, K. & Russell-Smith, J. Towards an Indigenous ecosystem services valuation framework: a north Australian example. Conservation and Society 15, 255-269 (2017).
2017 Journal Article Russell-Smith, J., Evans, J., Edwards, A. C. & Simms, A. Assessing ecological performance thresholds in fire‐prone Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. Ecosphere 8, (2017).
2017 Report Russell-Smith, J. Savanna fire management and bushfire and natural hazard scenario planning for northern Australia: annual project report 2016-17. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2016 Report Russell-Smith, J., Yates, C. P. & Edwards, A. C. Savanna fire management and bushfire and natural hazard scenario planning for northern Australia: annual project report 2015-2016. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2015 Conference Paper Rumsewicz, M. Research proceedings from the 2015 Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC conference. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC annual conference 2015 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Conference Paper Edwards, A. C., Russell-Smith, J., Sangha, K. & Yates, C. P. Culturally appropriate mapping tools for informing two-way fire management planning in remote indigenous north Australian communities - peer viewed. Adelaide Conference 2015 (2015).
2015 Journal Article Edwards, A. C., Russell-Smith, J. & Meyer, C. P. (Mick). Contemporary fire regime risks to key ecological assets and processes in north Australian savannas. International Journal of Wildland Fire 24, 857-870 (2015).
2015 Report Russell-Smith, J. & Edwards, A. C. Savanna fire management and scenario planning for North Australia: Annual project report 2014-2015. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
Datesort descending Title Download Key Topics
21 Mar 2014 Fire management for northern Australia PDF icon 7.5 MB (7.5 MB) Northern Australia, savanna grasslands, scenario analysis
21 Mar 2014 Fire management training for northern Australia PDF icon 1.22 MB (1.22 MB) fire, indigenous communities, Northern Australia
11 Sep 2015 Savanna fire management and bushfire and natural hazard scenario planning for North Australia PDF icon 16.09 MB (16.09 MB) Northern Australia, planning
14 Dec 2015 Scoping remote north Australian community resilience - project overview File 0 bytes (0 bytes) Northern Australia, planning, resilience
02 Feb 2016 Research for better land management PDF icon 133.76 KB (133.76 KB) fuel reduction, land management, prescribed burning
22 Feb 2016 Savanna fire management for north Australia - project overview File 0 bytes (0 bytes) Northern Australia, planning, savanna grasslands
24 Oct 2016 Savanna fire management and bushfire and natural hazard scenario planning for north Australia PDF icon 3.85 MB (3.85 MB) fire, planning, prescribed burning
24 Oct 2016 Flammable grassy weeds PDF icon 3.42 MB (3.42 MB) fire, fuel reduction, Northern Australia
27 Jun 2017 Update on SMERF (the Savanna Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework) PDF icon 1.62 MB (1.62 MB)
27 Jun 2017 Example SMERF report PDF icon 197.79 KB (197.79 KB)
27 Jun 2017 The economics of fire management and community resilience PDF icon 2.93 MB (2.93 MB)
07 Jul 2017 Building community resilience in remote north Australia PDF icon 5.37 MB (5.37 MB) communities, indigenous communities, Northern Australia
31 Oct 2017 Prescribed burning cluster PDF icon 129.41 KB (129.41 KB) fuel reduction, mitigation, prescribed burning
07 Mar 2018 Strengthening fire mapping for improved fire management and carbon abatement in north Australia PDF icon 412.36 KB (412.36 KB) fire severity, land management, prescribed burning
17 Apr 2018 Building community resilience in northern Australia PDF icon 3.92 MB (3.92 MB) multi-hazard, Northern Australia, resilience
01 Jun 2018 Fire Australia Issue Two 2018 PDF icon 6.73 MB (6.73 MB) communities, decision making, emergency management
23 Nov 2018 The savanna and rangelands monitoring and evaluation reporting framework PDF icon 1.67 MB (1.67 MB) fire, fire weather, Northern Australia
08 Oct 2019 A monitoring and evaluation framework for the northern savannas File 0 bytes (0 bytes) framework, land management, savanna grasslands
17 Oct 2019 The Savanna and Rangelands Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework (SMERF) PDF icon 8.51 MB (8.51 MB) fire, Northern Australia
Assessing ecological risk with indigenous communities: Tropical savannas Northern Australia
25 Aug 2014
This project builds upon substantial work previously undertaken within the facility of the Bushfire CRC “...
Andrew Edwards Conference Poster 2016
14 Aug 2016
Providing mapping tools from detailed research, modelling and analysis of the occurrence and effects of fire...
The Savanna Monitoring & Evaluation Reporting Framework (SMERF)
29 Jun 2017
The work undertaken through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC is part of a savanna-wide program of mostly...
AFAC19 poster
27 Aug 2019
North Australia is at risk from bushfires, cyclones, storms and floods. In 2016-17 the average cost of major...