natural disasters

The shape of a perfect storm: saving lives by predicting firestorms

Scientists available for interview – details and photos below.

Correction: an earlier version stated the tool is being formally trialed by the NSW Rural Fire SERVICE. It is currently in use, but formal trials ended in 2016.

A fully developed pyrocumulus cloud, formed from the smoke plume of the Grampians fire in February 2013. Credit: Randall Bacon

Firestorms are a nightmare for emergency services and anyone in their path. They occur when a bushfire meets a ‘perfect storm’ of environmental conditions and creates a thunderstorm.

Dr Rachel Badlan and Associate Professor Jason Sharples are part of a team of experts from UNSW Canberra and ACT Emergency Services that has found the shape of a fire is an important factor in whether it will turn into a firestorm.

Fires that form expansive areas of active flame, rather than spreading as a relatively thin fire-front, are more likely to produce higher smoke plumes and turn into firestorms, the researchers found.

This finding is being used to underpin further development of a predictive model for firestorms. The model was trialed in the 2015 and 2016 fire seasons by the ACT Emergency Services Agency and the NSW Rural Fire Service, and now forms part of the national dialogue around extreme bushfire development.  

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Radar-in-a-suitcase makes bridges safer

Assessing ageing bridges just got safer and easier, thanks to a high-tech radar device that fits inside a suitcase.

Developed by Dr Lihai Zhang of The University of Melbourne as part of a collaborative research project supported by The Australia-Indonesia Centre, the IBIS-S radar technology can scan a bridge in 15 minutes from a kilometre away with an accuracy of 0.01mm, quickly assessing its condition and stability.

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Air, fire, earth and water – understanding our planet in all its moods

In 2011 Australia will hold one of the world’s largest meetings of earth scientists. They will explore all the physical aspects of our planet, from deep in the Earth’s core to our place in space.

Given recent natural disasters—such as the Pakistan floods, Black Saturday bushfires, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, 2010 Chile earthquake, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano—the Earth seems ever more restless and destructive, and the impact on human life and infrastructure is increasingly heavy.

So it is important to understand how the Earth works—which means the 25th General Assembly of the International Union of Geophysics and Geodesy in Melbourne from 28 June to 7 July 2011 will be a focus of attention, not only for the 3,000 delegates expected to attend, but for many others besides. [continue reading…]