Science

High-res climate simulations to check bushfire risk

New climate simulations will improve bushfire information
Wednesday, 13 October, 2010
Bob Beale

UNSW researchers have received a $200,000 grant to help develop high-resolution climate simulations to better inform how climate change will affect bushfire risk on the heavily populated eastern seaboard of NSW.

 The award was announced yesterday by the NSW Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Mr Frank Sartor, and will be funded through the NSW Environmental Trust, an independent statutory body established to fund a broad range of organisations to undertake projects that enhance the environment of NSW.

 The research will be led by Professor Andy Pitman and Dr Jason Evans, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC), working with colleagues at other research institutions.

 "The climate models used to underpin the 2009 NSW State of the Environment Report were shown to simulate the climate well at large continental scales but these models are unable to capture the small scale variability that dominates how climate change will affect the regional and local scales relevant to most impacts and adaptation studies," says Professor Pitman.

 "The eastern seaboard of NSW, for example, from a little west of the Great Dividing Range to the coast, is far too small to be resolved properly by these global models. It is, however, home to the vast majority of the state's population and industry, as well as significant agricultural, biodiversity and other natural resources including possible bio-sequestration capacity.

 "Thus there are many systems on the eastern seaboard that require climate projections at fine scales to inform effective management and risk assessment.  We will undertake very high-resolution simulations of the area and make these projections available to others involved in such studies.

 "The resolution will be at tens of kilometres, rather the hundreds of kilometres used in the global models.  We will use these projections to provide high resolution assessments of how the risk of bushfire will change in the future via the development of measures of risk informed by existing science."

 The CCRC group has an extensive track record in this field and its modelling has been used to underpin the State of the Environment report and other planning products used state-wide. It is creating similar high-resolution simulations for the Pacific region through another federally funded program.

 The new NSW climate projections will reanalyse climate data from between 1990 and the present, then simulate projected climate trends forward to 2060.

 The project will also provide future climate projections that are high resolution in time, over about three-hourly periods.

 "Projections of changes in around 150 climate and surface variables including precipitation, temperature, winds, humidity, soil moisture, radiation and cloud cover will be produced," Dr Evans says."This dataset will enable a near limitless variety of impacts and adaptation studies to be performed.

 "We will tailor the outputs to underpin a large amount of relevant environmental research on the scale of climate change over NSW, the risks associated with climate change on extremes and provide the resource for others to explore the high-resolution projections of the impact on climate change on biodiversity, water and other resources."

Media contact:
Faculty of Science media liaison – Bob Beale 0411 705 435 bbeale@unsw.edu.au