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

Interannual variations of area burnt in Tasmanian bushfires: relationships with climate and predictability

Neville Nicholls A D and Christopher Lucas B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia.

B Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, 700 Collins Street, Docklands, VIC 3008, Australia.

C Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, 340 Albert Street, East Melbourne, VIC 3002, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 16(5) 540-546
Submitted: 22 September 2006  Accepted: 4 April 2007   Published: 26 October 2007


The area burnt each summer in Tasmania is related to coincident (summer) climate variables, especially the total summer rainfall. The relationship with temperature is weaker and largely reflects the relationship between rainfall and temperature. As the El Niño–Southern Oscillation is known to be related to Australian rainfall and simple indices of this phenomenon form the basis of the operational seasonal climate forecast scheme used in Australia, it is not surprising that indices of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation can also, it appears, provide a potentially useful forecast system for Tasmanian bushfire extent. In particular, sea surface temperatures in the Coral Sea during winter are correlated with the area burnt in the following summer. The effect of summer rainfall on the area burnt each year suggests that global warming may not simply lead to increased burning, contrasting with the situation in other parts of the globe. A weak, long-term decline in area burnt appears to be due to a weak increase in summer rainfall.

Additional keywords: climate change, El Niño, Southern Oscillation.


Area burnt data were obtained from Alen Slijepcevic, formerly of Forestry Tasmania, now with the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria. Robert Field, an anonymous reviewer and an anonymous Associate Editor provided comments to improve the manuscript. Robert Field, in particular, suggested that we should investigate the contribution of rainfall variations in different parts of Tasmania to the correlation with bushfire activity.


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