CSIRO's new national lab to bolster bushfire response

In the face of more extreme events, Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has unveiled its new world-class bushfire research facility to better understand how bushfires behave, what conditions make them worse, and the best ways to respond.

Constructed at a cost of $2.1 million, the new National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory is located at CSIRO Black Mountain Canberra.

The new laboratory will boost the power of CSIRO’s Pyrotron and Vertical Wind Tunnel, two unique instruments designed to allow the detailed investigation of the physics of bushfires.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall said as bushfires become more frequent and severe, the national science agency is investing in cutting-edge research to protect Australians and build on CSIRO’s more than seventy years of collaborative research 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,” Larry 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 Dr 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,” Andrew 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.”

The Pyrotron is a 29-m-long combustion wind tunnel designed to investigate of 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 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 spotfires. 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,” Rohan 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: www.csiro.au/en/work-with-us/use-our-labs-facilities/Bushfire-laboratory



PHOTO: Ablaze – the Pyrotron in action at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra


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