Bushfire prediction model launched by Aus national science agency

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Australia’s national science agency on Tuesday launched a new model for predicting the spread of bushfires.

The Vesta Mark 2 Model, which was launched by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), is Australia’s most advanced model for predicting the speed and behaviour of a Eucalypt forest fire, reports Xinhua news agency.

Eucalypts make up more than 70 per cent of Australia’s forests and account for the country’s two most extreme fire events of the 21st century: the 2009 Black Saturday fires and the 2019/20 Black Summer fires.

Andrew Sullivan, a CSIRO bushfire behaviour researcher, said while much of the country was expecting a wet summer, bushfires remained an ever-present threat.

“Forests have critical ecological and socio-economic roles, and often connect to areas where large numbers of Australians live,” he said in a media release.

“Critically, this model can accurately predict the speed that a fire front will advance across a landscape, which is essential to enable authorities to efficiently identify threats, issue bushfire warning messages, signal evacuations, and plan fire suppression actions.”

The model relies on weather forecasts and wind information from the Bureau of Meteorology as well as historical data on fires dating back 40 years and fuel load information from vegetation databases.

A landmark CSIRO report published in November found that the average area of forest burned annually in Australia was 800 per cent higher between 2002 and 2019 than from 1988 to 2001.

Of the four mega fires in Australia since 1930, defined as a bushfire that burned more than 1 million hectares of land, three have occurred since 2000.

Kyle Stewart, deputy commissioner for preparedness and capability at the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service (RFS), said the new model would be a key weapon in the fight against fires.

“Knowing with confidence where a bushfire will be ahead of time is critical to the safe and effective deployment of our fire crews and the safety of our communities,” he said.

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