Breathing Fire: Tracking the Meteorology of Large Bushfires

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1. Summary

The Bushfire Convective Plume Experiment
The study of bushfire plumes is critical to fire spread models and has direct impacts on operational bushfire management. The most recent research conducted by the Bureau of Meteorology using, Large Eddy Modelling, is examining lofting and spotting of embers in bushfire plumes, where plume structure begins to play an important role in how the spotting of embers is spatially distributed[i]. It is this work that will require robust validation through field observation. One of the significant knowledge gaps contained within this is the role of temperature and wind profiles on plume formation. Radar has been demonstrated as a highly effective tool in analysing bushfire plume structure and evolution, but very little research has combined this analysis with simultaneous measurement of stability, wind shear and moisture in proximity to the plume.

The central aim of this research is to investigate the structure and evolution of convective plume dynamics associated with bushfire, and its interaction with local atmospheric conditions surrounding a bushfire, through a combination of field observation methods, in a move towards better model verification strategies.

I am looking for collaborators on technological solutions to how we can best share our data in real time to the agencies that need it most. This means IT and design solutions for quick and effective communication to provide real-time meteorology situational awareness to bushfire analysts.

[i]Thurston, W., Tory, K. J., Fawcett, J. B. and  J. D. Kerpert. 2013. Large-eddy simulations of bushfire plumes in the turbulent atmospheric boundary layer. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre Poster.

2. Description

It is clear through the literature that the answer to these questions will not come through single approaches to plume dynamics analysis, but will rather require a combination of observational methods[i]. My PhD will take the form of an observational field campaign be undertaken in south east Australia through the 2015/16 and 2016/17 bushfire seasons. This will take advantage of a fully portable meteorological observation platform. This is a 4WD vehicle equipped with a portable dual-polarisation x-band Doppler radar; Quad-copter and fixed wing UAV; full aerological sounding (weather balloon) equipment; Automatic Weather Stations and handheld observation equipment.

[i]Potter B. E. 2012. Atmospheric interactions with wildland fire behaviour – II. Plume and vortex dynamics. International Journal of Wildland Fire. doi:10.1071/WF11129.

3. Additional Details

Fieldwork Campaign
The format for this campaign will take the form firstly of between 5 and 10 observations of prescribed burns, conducted at a predetermined locations. From September a wildfire watch period will begin, involving an ongoing collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology. Relationships are currently in place for cooperation with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, NSW Rural Fire Service and the ACT Emergency Services Agency. With the occurrence of a wildfire that shows high probability of intensive convective plume development, the research team of 3 or 4 will be dispatched to within some proximity (idealistically > 15km) upwind of the wildfire. The aim of the operations is to observe two to three large bushfire convective plume events per season. The watch period will end in mid-March each year. Robust and comprehensive field observation strategies over multiple seasons to progress the science of bushfire convective plume percussive conditions, triggers, formation and evolution processes.

Research Objectives
1.     Examine the role of the ambient wind shear, stability and moisture characteristics in the lower troposphere in wildfire plume structure
2.     Determine updraft, downdraft and convective inflow velocities of wildfire convective plumes along with their evolution through the course of a fire
3.     Determine the geometries of upward and downward flows, as well as the spatial patterns of horizontal convergence and divergence in wildfire convective plumes.


cloudy1 cloudy1
over 4 years ago

I like the title.

Alan Victor
over 4 years ago

It will be very interesting to see how large bushfires generate their own weather and how they superimpose on the synoptic weather data.

Suhan Chin
over 4 years ago

Very cool Nick, video is very informative.

Ben McCarthy
over 4 years ago

Lookin' good big unit!

Claire Yeo
over 4 years ago

Great collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology fire weather meteorologists, and targeting of real problems in science and community safety that need ground truthing. More of this kind of collaboration is needed.

Michael Hewson
over 4 years ago

Really important research given the climate change direction for parts of AU.

Kris Gilmour
over 4 years ago

Yeah good

Adam Davey
over 4 years ago

Climate change is probably a huge myth to keep otherwise useless scientists employed but in life I swore to never take a risk ever!

Igea Troiani
over 4 years ago

This is an important research project pertinent to environmental issues in Australia but impacting on the whole world. It is essential we support this kind of research by emerging scholars such as Nicholas.

Stephen Wilkes
over 4 years ago

Thank you so much for being interested in this area of bushfire research. This logical step to empirically study the 3d environment around bushfire management is a hallelujah moment. The approach to deploy sensors at multiple levels I am convinced will open up a whole new paradigm for fire managers. Thank you.
Stephen Wilkes

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about 2 years ago

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I'm a PhD student with the Climate Research Group at the University of Queensland. I spend half my time at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and work closely with bushfire management agencies a...