Up to half the landscape in northern savannas is burnt annually.
Managing fire is an important task for savanna land managers. Here
we look at come of the Centre's current fire research —
mapping by satellite, how Aboriginal people use fire and
communicating research to our stakeholders.
Satellites and fire management
The TS-CRC's fire research program, Fire and Savanna Landscapes
(see below for link)led by Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith, aims to let us
observe fires as they happen, map the areas they have burnt each
year and predict where and when there is a high fire danger.
While fire is an important management tool for savanna land
managers, it can also be threat.
Dr Russell-Smith is developing a coordinated fire monitoring and
research program aimed at crossing the sectoral and political
boundaries right across northern Australia.
Using satellite imagery is the only way to get a picture of fire
over an area as large as the savannas.
The program is based on imagery from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites, which have relatively
coarse (1.1 km) resolution but pass over Australia daily.
Supported by the Land and Water Resources R&D Corporation, the
Bushfires Council of the Northern Territory and the CRC, Dr Russell
Smith held a workshop in late 1996 in Darwin.
The workshop sought support from the agencies responsible for fire
management as well as fire researchers in the region. It also
identified a number of important areas of work, listed below, for
Monitoring 'Hot Spots'
NOAA satellites can 'see' daily fires which may need controlling.
This information is already used in northern Western Australia and
the Northern Territory.
But it does not give as comprehensive and accurate a picture as
needed and sometimes does not reach people quickly enough for them
to act on it.
The program will explore ways to ensure the information gets to who
needs it on the day they need it.
Land managers use maps drawn from satellite data which show where
fires have already burnt during a fire season to assess how their
annual burning program is progressing.
Maps are also valuable historical records showing what areas and
important pieces of vegetation were burnt each year and can be used
to suggest which areas should be burnt next year.
They may also help in environmental modelling to estimate
particulate smoke emissions each year. The program will undertake
research to improve the accuracy of the maps that are presently
The data coming from satellites is an important national resource.
It should be stored properly and in a way that makes it easily
accessible. The program will explore ways to use the Internet to
make the data easily available to whoever needs it.
As savanna grasses cure over the dry season each year, the danger
of fire increases.
Maps showing when and where grass is ready to burn at various times
during a year will help managers to identify danger spots and plan
their controlled burning.
An index of the greenness of grass, called the Normalised
Difference Vegetation Index, can be measured from NOAA images to
draw maps of grass curing.
At present there are difficulties in measuring this index in
northern Australia. The program will undertake research to improve
the way in which the index is measured to let us draw better fire