International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Bushfires ‘down under’: patterns and implications of contemporary Australian landscape burning

Jeremy Russell-Smith A B J , Cameron P. Yates C , Peter J. Whitehead A C , Richard Smith D , Ron Craig D , Grant E. Allan B E , Richard Thackway F , Ian Frakes F , Shane Cridland G , Mick C. P. Meyer H and A. Malcolm Gill I

A Tropical Savannas Management Cooperative Research Centre, Darwin, NT, Australia.

B Bushfires NT, Darwin, NT, Australia.

C Deparment Natural Resources, Environment & the Arts, Palmerston, NT, Australia.

D Department Land Information, Perth, WA, Australia.

E Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, Alice Springs, NT, Australia.

F Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

G Deparment Environment & Heritage, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

H CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Vic, Australia.

I CSIRO Plant Industry, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

J Corresponding author. Email: jeremy.russell-smith@nt.gov.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 16(4) 361-377 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF07018
Submitted: 8 February 2007  Accepted: 29 May 2007   Published: 20 August 2007

Abstract

Australia is among the most fire-prone of continents. While national fire management policy is focused on irregular and comparatively smaller fires in densely settled southern Australia, this comprehensive assessment of continental-scale fire patterning (1997–2005) derived from ~1 km2 Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) imagery shows that fire activity occurs predominantly in the savanna landscapes of monsoonal northern Australia. Statistical models that relate the distribution of large fires to a variety of biophysical variables show that, at the continental scale, rainfall seasonality substantially explains fire patterning. Modelling results, together with data concerning seasonal lightning incidence, implicate the importance of anthropogenic ignition sources, especially in the northern wet–dry tropics and arid Australia, for a substantial component of recurrent fire extent. Contemporary patterns differ markedly from those under Aboriginal occupancy, are causing significant impacts on biodiversity, and, under current patterns of human population distribution, land use, national policy and climate change scenarios, are likely to prevail, if not intensify, for decades to come. Implications of greenhouse gas emissions from savanna burning, especially seasonal emissions of CO2, are poorly understood and contribute to important underestimation of the significance of savanna emissions both in Australian and probably in international greenhouse gas inventories. A significant challenge for Australia is to address annual fire extent in fire-prone Australian savannas.

Additional keywords: AVHRR, biomass burning, fire mapping, greenhouse gas emissions, remote sensing, satellite imagery, savanna burning.


References

Abbott I (2003) Aboriginal fire regimes in south-west Western Australia: evidence from historical documents. In ‘Fire in Ecosystems in south-west Western Australia: Impacts and Management’. (Eds I Abbott, N Burrows) pp. 119–146. (Backhuys: Leiden, the Netherlands)

Allan GE, Southgate IR (2002) Fire regimes in the spinifex landscapes of Australia. In ‘Flammable Australia: the fire regimes and biodiversity of a continent’. (Eds RA Bradstock, JE Williams, AM Gill) pp. 145–176. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK)

AGO (2006) ‘National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2004.’ (Australian Greenhouse Office: Canberra)

Bowman DMJS1998The impact of Aboriginal landscape burning on the Australian biota.The New Phytologist140385410doi:10.1046/J.1469-8137.1998.00289.X

Bowman DMJSPanton WJ1993Decline of Callitris intratropica in the Northern Territory: implications for pre- and post-colonisation fire regimes.Journal of Biogeography20373381doi:10.2307/2845586

Bradstock RAGill AMKenny BJScott J1998Bushfire risk at the urban interface estimated from historical weather records: consequences for the use of prescribed fire in the Sydney region of south-eastern Australia.Journal of Environmental Management52259271doi:10.1006/JEMA.1997.0177

Bradstock RA, Williams JE, Gill AM (Eds) (2002) ‘Flammable Australia: the fire regimes and biodiversity of a continent.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK)

Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) ‘Model selection and multi-model inference: a practical information theoretic approach.’ (Springer: New York)

Burrows NDBurbidge AAFuller PJBehn G2006Evidence of altered fire regimes in the Western Desert region of Western Australia.Conservation Science Western Australia5272284

Carmona-Moreno CBelward AMalingreau J-PHartley AGarcia-Alegre MAntonovskiy MBuchshtaber VPivovarov V2005Characterizing interannual variations in global fire calendar using data from Earth observing satellites.Global Change Biology1115371555
doi:10.1111/J.1365-2486.2005.01003.X

Cary G, Lindenmayer D, Dover S (Eds) (2003) ‘Australia Burning: Fire Ecology, Policy and Management Issues.’ (CSIRO: Melbourne)

Cheney NP (1979) Bushfire disasters in Australia 1945–1975. In ‘Natural Hazards in Australia’. (Eds RL Heathcote, BG Thom) pp. 72–93. (Australian Academy of Science: Canberra)

Commonwealth of Australia (1996) ‘Australia: State of the Environment 1996.’ (CSIRO: Melbourne) Available at http://www.deh.gov.au/soe/soe96/index.html [Verified 1 January 2007]

Cook GDLiedloff ACEager RWChen XWilliams RJO’Grady APHutley LB2005The estimation of carbon budgets of frequently burnt tree stands in savannas of northern Australia, using allometric and isotopic discrimination.Australian Journal of Botany53621630doi:10.1071/BT04150

Craig R, Heath B, Raisbeck-Brown N, Steber M, Marsden J, Smith R (2002) The distribution, extent and seasonality of large fires in Australia, April 1998–March 2000, as mapped from NOAA–AVHRR imagery. In ‘Australian Fire Regimes: Contemporary Patterns (April 1998–March 2000) and Changes since European Settlement’. (Eds J Russell-Smith, R Craig, AM Gill, R Smith, J Williams) Australia State of the Environment Second Technical Paper Series (Biodiversity). (Department of the Environment and Heritage: Canberra) Available at http://www.ea.gov.au/soe/techpapers/index.html [Verified 1 January 2007]

Crawley MJ (2002) ‘Statistical computing: an introduction to data analysis using S-Plus.’ (John Wiley and Sons: Chichester, UK)

CSIRO (2006) ‘Common AVHRR Processing Software (CAPS).’ Available at http://www.cmar.csiro.au/ar/rs/Capshome.html [Verified 1 January 2007]

Dowden RLBrundell JBRodger CJ2002VLF lightning location by time of group arrival (TOGA) at multiple sites.Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics64817830doi:10.1016/S1364-6826(02)00085-8

Dozier J1981A method of satellite identification of surface temperature field of subpixel resolution.Remote Sensing of Environment11221229doi:10.1016/0034-4257(81)90021-3

Dwyer EPinnock SGregoire J-MPereira JMC2000Global spatial and temporal distribution of vegetation fire as determined from satellite observations.International Journal of Remote Sensing2112891302doi:10.1080/014311600210182

Duncan BNMartin RVStaudt ACYevich RLogan JA2003Interannual and seasonal variability of biomass burning emissions constrained by satellite observations.Journal of Geophysical Research108doi:10.1029/2002JD002378

Dyer R, Jacklyn P, Partridge I, Russell-Smith J, Williams RJ (Eds) (2002) ‘Savanna burning: understanding and using fire in northern Australia’. (Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre: Darwin)

Ellis S, Kanowski P, Whelan R (2004) ‘National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management.’ (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra) Available at http://www.coag.gov.au/ [Verified 1 January 2007]

Esplin B, Gill AM, Enright N (2003) ‘Report of the Inquiry into the 2002–03 Victorian Bushfires.’ (State Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Eva HLambin EF1998Remote sensing of biomass burning in tropical regions: sampling issues and multi-sensor approach.Remote Sensing of Environment64292315doi:10.1016/S0034-4257(98)00006-6

Fernandes PMBotelho HS2003A review of prescribed burning effectiveness in fire hazard reduction.International Journal of Wildland Fire12117128doi:10.1071/WF02042

Gill AM, Groves RH, Noble IR (Eds) (1981) ‘Fire and the Australian Biota.’ (Australian Academy of Science: Canberra)

Gill AM, van Didden G (2002) The relationship between Hot Spots from NOAA-AVHRR imagery and fires from southwestern Australian forests. In ‘Australian Fire Regimes: Contemporary Patterns (April 1998–March 2000) and Changes since European Settlement’ (Eds J Russell-Smith, R Craig, AM Gill, R Smith, J Williams) Australia State of the Environment Second Technical Paper Series (Biodiversity). (Department of the Environment and Heritage: Canberra) Available at http://www.ea.gov.au/soe/techpapers/index.html [Verified 1 January 2007]

Gill AM, Thackway R, Frakes I (2006) ‘Developing a dataset of major bushfire fuel groups of Australia.’ Report to the Natural Resources Management Division and Forest and Fisheries Division. (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Canberra)

Griffin GFPrice NFPortlock HF1983Wildfires in central Australia 1970–1980.Journal of Environmental Management17311323

Johnston FHKavanagh AMBowman DMJSScott RK2002Exposure to bushfire smoke and asthma: an ecological study.The Medical Journal of Australia176535538


Jones D, Weymouth G (1997) An Australian Monthly Rainfall Dataset. Technical Report 70. (Bureau of Meteorology: Melbourne)

Hallam SJ (1975) ‘Fire and hearth: a study of Aboriginal usage and European usurpation in south-western Australia.’ (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra)

Hennessy K, Lucas C, Nicholls N, Bathols J, Suppiah R, Ricketts J (2006) ‘Climate change impacts on fire-weather in South-east Australia.’ (CSIRO: Melbourne) Available at
http://www.cmar.csiro.au/e-print/open/hennessykj_2005b.pdf [Verified 1 January 2007]

IPCC (1996) ‘Revised 1996 IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories.’ 3 vols. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Hadley Centre, UK)

IPCC (2003) ‘Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry’ (Eds J Penman, M Gytarsky, T Hiraishi, T Krug, D Kruger, R Pipatti, L Buendia, K Miwa, T Ngara, K Tanabe, F Wagner) (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) for the IPCC: Kanagawa, Japan)

Kasischke KSFrench NHF1995Locating and estimating the aerial extent of wildfires in Alaskan boreal forests using multiple-season AVHRR NDVI composite data.Remote Sensing of Environment51263275doi:10.1016/0034-4257(93)00074-J

Keeley JKFotheringham CJMorais M1999Re-examining fire suppression impacts on brushland fire regimes.Science28418291832doi:10.1126/SCIENCE.284.5421.1829

Kondo YTakegawa NMiyazaki YKo MKoike MKita KKawakami SShirai TOgawa TBlake DRLiley BRussell-Smith J2003Effects of biomass burning and lightning on atmospheric chemistry over Australia and South-east Asia.International Journal of Wildland Fire12271281doi:10.1071/WF03014

Lay EHHolzworth RHRodger CJThomas JNPinto OJrDowden RL2004WWLLN global lightning detection system: Regional validation study in Brazil.Geophysical Research Letters31doi:10.1029/2003GL018882

Lee TFTag PM1990Improved detection of hotspots using the AVHRR 3.7 mm channel.Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society7117221730doi:10.1175/1520-0477(1990)071<1722:IDOHUT>2.0.CO;2

Luke RH, McArthur AG (1978) ‘Bushfires in Australia.’ (Australian Govt. Publishing Service: Canberra)

McCarthy GJ, Tolhurst KG (2001) ‘Effectiveness of broadscale fuel reduction burning in assisting with wildfire control in parks and forests in Victoria.’ Fire Management Research Report No. 51. (Dept Natural Resources & Environment: Melbourne)

McCaw L, Cheney P, Sneeuwjagt R (2003) Development of a scientific understanding of fire behaviour and use in south-west Western Australia. In ‘Fire in Ecosystems in south-west Western Australia: Impacts and Management.’ (Eds I Abbott, N Burrows) pp. 171–187. (Backhuys: Leiden, the Netherlands)

Meyer CP (2004) ‘Establishing a consistent time-series of greenhouse gas emission estimates from savanna burning in Australia.’ Report to the Australian Greenhouse Office, Canberra. (CSIRO: Melbourne)

Nix H (1982) Environmental determinants of biogeography and evolution in Terra Australis. In ‘Evolution of the Flora and Fauna of Arid Australia’. (Eds WR Barker, PJM Greenslade) pp. 47–66. (Peacock Publications: Adelaide)

NLWRA (2001) ‘Australian Native Vegetation Assessment.’ (National Land and Water Resources Audit: Canberra) Available at http://audit.ea.gov.au/ANRA/vegetation/docs/Native_vegetation/nat_veg_veggroups.cfm [Verified 1 January 2007]

Pyne S (1991) ‘Burning bush: a fire history of Australia.’ (University of Washington Press: Seattle)

Pyne S (2006) ‘The Still-burning Bush.’ (Scribe: Melbourne)

R Development Core Team (2005) ‘R: a language and environment for statistical computing.’ R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Available at http://www.r-project.org/ [Verified 1 January 2007]

Russell-Smith J, Craig R, Gill AM, Smith R, Williams JE (2002) ‘Australian fire regimes: Contemporary patterns (April 1998–March 2000) and changes since European settlement.’ Australia State of the Environment Second Technical Paper Series No. 2 (Biodiversity). (Department of the Environment and Heritage: Canberra) Available at http://www.ea.gov.au/soe/techpapers/index.html [Verified 1 January 2007]

Russell-Smith JEdwards ACCook GD2003aReliability of biomass burning estimates from savanna fires: biomass burning in northern Australia during the 1999 Biomass Burning and Lightning Experiment B field campaign.Journal of Geophysical Research1088405doi:10.1029/2001JD000787

Russell-Smith JYates CEdwards AAllan GECook GDCooke PCraig RHeath BSmith R2003bContemporary fire regimes of northern Australia, 1997–2001: change since Aboriginal occupancy, challenges for sustainable management.International Journal of Wildland Fire12283297doi:10.1071/WF03015

SAS Institute (2002) ‘SAS Procedures Guide, Version 8.’ (SAS Institute Inc.: Cary, SC)

Shirai TBlake DRMeinardi SRowland FSRussell-Smith JEdwards AKondo YKoike MKita KMachida TTakegawa NNishi NKawakami SOgawa T2002Emission estimates of selected volatile organic compounds from tropical savanna burning in northern Australia.Journal of Geophysical Research108

Smith R, Adams M, Maier S, Kristina A, Maling I (2006) ‘Monitoring the area of fields stubble burnt in southern Australia by satellite.’ Report to the Australian Greenhouse Office, Dept. Environment & Heritage, Canberra. (Western Australia Dept. of Land Information: Perth)

Spessa AMcBeth BPrentice C2005Relationships among fire frequency, rainfall and vegetation patterns in the wet-dry tropics of northern Australia: an analysis based on NOAA-AVHRR data.Global Ecology and Biogeography14439454
doi:10.1111/J.1466-822X.2005.00174.X

Stewart JB, Smart RB, Barry SC, Veitch SM (2001) ‘1996/97 Land Use of Australia – final report for project BRR5.’ (National Land and Water Resources Audit: Canberra)

Stocks BJMason JATodd JBBosch EMWotton BMAmiro BDFlannigan MDHirsch KGLogan KAMartell DLSkinner WR2003Large forest fires in Canada, 1989–1997.Journal of Geophysical Research107

Tansey KGregoire J-MStroppiana DSousa ASilva JPeriera JMCBoschetti LMaggi MBrivio PAFraser RFlasse SErshov DBinaghi EGraetz DPeduzzi P2004Vegetation burning in the year 2000: global burned area estimates from SPOT VEGETATION data. Journal of Geophysical Research109D14S03
doi:10.1029/2003JD003598

Thackway R, Donohue R, Smart R (2004) ‘Integrated Regional Vegetation Information – a compilation of vegetation types for National Action Plan and Natural Heritage Trust regions.’ (Bureau of Rural Sciences: Canberra)

Walker J (1981) Fuel dynamics in Australian vegetation. In ‘Fire and the Australian Biota’. (Eds AM Gill, RH Groves, IR Noble) pp. 101–127. (Australian Academy of Science: Canberra)

Whitehead PJ, Woinarski JCZ, Franklin D, Price O (2002) Landscape ecology, wildlife management, and conservation in northern Australia: linking policy, practice and planning in regional planning. In ‘Landscape Ecology and Resource Management: Linking Theory and Practice’. (Eds J Bissonette, I Storch) pp. 227–259. (Island Press: New York)

Williams AAJKaroly DJTapper N2001The sensitivity of Australian fire danger to climate change.Climatic Change49171191doi:10.1023/A:1010706116176

Williams RJ, Griffiths AD, Allan GE (2002) Fire regimes and biodiversity in the wet–dry tropical landscapes of northern Australia. In ‘Flammable Australia: the fire regimes and biodiversity of a continent’. (Eds RA Bradstock, JE Williams, AM Gill) pp. 281–304. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK)

Woinarski JCZWilliams RJPrice ORankmore B2005Landscapes without boundaries: wildlife and their environments in northern Australia.Wildlife Research32377388doi:10.1071/WR03008

Yates C, Russell-Smith J (2002) An assessment of the accuracy of DOLA’s Northern Australia NOAA-AVHRR Fire Affected Area (FAA) map products. In ‘Australian Fire Regimes: Contemporary Patterns (April 1998–March 2000) and Changes since European Settlement’. (Eds J Russell-Smith, R Craig, AM Gill, R Smith, J Williams) Australia State of the Environment Second Technical Paper Series (Biodiversity). (Department of the Environment and Heritage: Canberra) Available at http://www.ea.gov.au/soe/techpapers/index.html [Verified 1 January 2007]

Yibarbuk DWhitehed PJRussell-Smith JJackson DGodjuwa CFisher ACooke PChoquenot DBowman DMJS2001Fire ecology and aboriginal land management in central Arnhem Land, northern Australia: a tradition of ecosystem management.Journal of Biogeography28325344doi:10.1046/J.1365-2699.2001.00555.X



Export Citation Cited By (96)