As the bulk of eastern and southern Australia braces for elevated fire risk this summer, a satellite monitoring system is being developed to help predict and mitigate their impact.
Australia’s warmest winter on record has combined with the ninth driest winter on record to produce the increased bushfire threat.
Australian National University researcher Dr Marta Yebra is working on a space-based system to predict moisture content in forests.
“Bushfires have been part of Australian landscapes for a long time, but with climate change the fires are getting more severe and frequent,” Dr Yebra said.
“With vegetation getting drier earlier in the season, there’s a greater likelihood of fire.”
From October, Dr Yebra will monitor eucalypts at the National Arboretum in Canberra to determine their moisture content.
“We’ll send the leaves to the lab to analyse their chemical composition,” she said.
“Better information about the live fuel moisture content will help fire managers to better prepare for the bushfire season.”
Dr Yebra said her research would improve emergency services’ ability to plan ahead.
“The current monitoring system is based on very old science that was developed in the ’60s,” she said.
“I’m creating a model that calibrates how much light the leaves reflect.
“We then compare the observations from the satellites to work out how much water and other biochemical elements a leaf has.
“This tells us how dry the fuel is and how likely it is that the fuel will be ignited.”
Dr Yebra said the space-based monitoring system had successfully helped with bushfire management in parts of Europe.
“The existing models for estimating fuel moisture content were developed for Spain, based around research of European species like oaks and pines.
“I have tried the models in Australia, and while they work fairly well, I can improve the accuracy by collecting data from a eucalypt forest.
“This way I will be able to calibrate a satellite model specifically for the Australian landscape.”