CSIRO ‘bushfire lab’ gets to work
AUSTRALIA’s national science agency, CSIRO, has unveiled its new world-leading bushfire research facility in Canberra, to better understand how bushfires behave, what conditions make them worse, and the best ways to respond across the country.
The $2.1 million National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory started operations at CSIRO Black Mountain Canberra in November 2022.
The new laboratory is already boosting knowledge through two new CSIRO research systems – the Pyrotron and Vertical Wind Tunnel – cutting edge instruments designed to allow the detailed investigation of the physics of bushfires.
CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said as bushfires were becoming more frequent and severe, the national science agency was investing in leading-edge research to protect Australians and build on CSIRO’s more than 70 years of collaborative studies in the field.
“Bushfires are one of Australia’s greatest challenges, and it will take the best science, facilities and partnerships across industry, government and research to help to protect our communities, front-line responders, and environment,” Dr Marshall said.
“During the Black Summer fires of 2019 and 2020, CSIRO’s scientists worked side by side with teams on the ground – as they have been for nearly every major fire event since 1950s – to better prepare for and manage bushfire seasons that are getting hotter, drier and longer.
“Challenges this complex cannot be solved by one organisation alone, and we look forward to bringing many partners together at this new National Lab – as we do at all our National Labs facilities across the country – to continue building the resilience and strength of our communities and economy.”
CSIRO bushfire behaviour expert Andrew Sullivan said the Pyrotron and Vertical Wind Tunnel were purpose-built scientific apparatus that could replicate aspects of real-life bushfires under a controlled range of conditions without the risks, safety concerns and access issues that a live bushfire presented to firefighters.
“Bushfires are a natural part of life in Australia, but as we know, they can be devasting, and staying on the front foot can be difficult because there are so many factors at play,” Dr Sullivan said.
“The new laboratory will help us better understand fundamental bushfire behaviour dynamics, and the factors and interactions that influence the behaviour of bushfires, to support their management by firefighters.
“The apparatus in the new laboratory can also help researchers and fire management agencies to better understand and manage fires under future climate conditions.”
TWO BUSHFIRE CONDITIONS SIMULATORS
The Pyrotron is a 29m-long combustion wind tunnel designed to investigate the mechanisms of flame propagation in bushfire fuels such as grass, forest litter and shrubs, under a broad range of burning conditions. This includes conditions such as those of an extreme fire danger day. Factors such as wind speed, fuel type and structure, fuel load and fuel moisture content can be precisely varied or strictly controlled.
The Vertical Wind Tunnel (VWT) is designed to study the combustion and aerodynamic characteristics of embers formed by burning bark and other materials. Embers ignited and blown ahead of a bushfire often start spot fires. These are the main cause of bushfires escaping containment and can threaten the lives of firefighters and members of the public and cause loss or damage to homes.
ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Rohan Scott said the new laboratory would provide essential information about fire behaviour to support decision making during bushfires.
“Knowing with confidence the factors that influence fires and understanding when those factors become dangerous is critical to the safe and effective deployment of our fire crews and the safety of our communities,” Mr Scott said.
The bushfire lab is a CSIRO-owned national facility. It is available for use by arrangement by any external organisations to better understand fire behaviour and their impacts.
More information on the Pyrotron and VWT can be found at www.csiro.au/en/work-with-us/use-our-labs-facilities/Bushfire-laboratory