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Measurement of inter- and intra-annual variability of landscape fire activity at a continental scale: the Australian case


Williamson, GJ and Prior, LD and Jolly, WM and Cochrane, MA and Murphy, BP and Bowman, DMJS, Measurement of inter- and intra-annual variability of landscape fire activity at a continental scale: the Australian case, Environmental Research Letters, 11, (3) Article 035003. ISSN 1748-9326 (2016) [Refereed Article]


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Copyright 2016 IOP PUblishing Ltd Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

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DOI: doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/035003


Climate dynamics at diurnal, seasonal and inter-annual scales shape global fire activity, although difficulties of assembling reliable fire and meteorological data with sufficient spatio-temporal resolution have frustrated quantification of this variability. Using Australia as a case study, we combine data from 4760 meteorological stations with 12 years of satellite-derived active fire detections to determine day and night time fire activity, fire season start and end dates, and inter-annual variability, across 61 objectively defined climate regions in three climate zones (monsoon tropics, arid and temperate). We show that geographic patterns of landscape burning (onset and duration) are related to fire weather, resulting in a latitudinal gradient from the monsoon tropics in winter, through the arid zone in all seasons except winter, and then to the temperate zone in summer and autumn. Peak fire activity precedes maximum lightning activity by several months in all regions, signalling the importance of human ignitions in shaping fire seasons. We determined median daily McArthur forest fire danger index (FFDI50) for days and nights when fires were detected: FFDI50 varied substantially between climate zones, reflecting effects of fire management in the temperate zone, fuel limitation in the arid zone and abundance of flammable grasses in the monsoon tropical zone. We found correlations between the proportion of days when FFDI exceeds FFDI50 and the Southern Oscillation index across the arid zone during spring and summer, and Indian Ocean dipole mode index across south-eastern Australia during summer. Our study demonstrates that Australia has a long fire weather season with high inter-annual variability relative to all other continents, making it difficult to detect long term trends. It also provides a way of establishing robust baselines to track changes to fire seasons, and supports a previous conceptual model highlighting multi-temporal scale effects of climate in shaping continental-scale pyrogeography.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:climate variability, El Niņo-Southern oscillation (ENSO), fire management, fire season, Indian Ocean dipole (IOD), pyrogeography, bushfire, climate, meteorology, Australia
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Ecological applications
Research Field:Landscape ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Effects of climate change on Australia (excl. social impacts)
UTAS Author:Williamson, GJ (Dr Grant Williamson)
UTAS Author:Prior, LD (Dr Lynda Prior)
UTAS Author:Bowman, DMJS (Professor David Bowman)
ID Code:106826
Year Published:2016
Web of Science® Times Cited:41
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2016-02-23
Last Modified:2017-10-31
Downloads:199 View Download Statistics

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