Director's Colloquium

Inside An Inferno: The anatomy of a bushfire

Dr Andrew Sullivan
Bushfire Dynamics and Applications Group

A bushfire is one of the most terrifying natural phenomena that anyone is likely to experience in Australia. To be caught in a bushfire is to witness a true inferno on Earth — conditions hot enough to melt metal, heat fluxes that literally vaporise vegetation, and smoke plumes so dense they turn day into night.

The climate, topography and vegetation of Australia is such that at some time during the year bushfires will occur somewhere in the country. Most bushfires are relatively mild and often burn themselves out when they run out of fuel or the weather changes. However, when the outbreak of a bushfire coincides with hot strong winds and continuous dry and flammable vegetation across the landscape they have the potential to become widespread conflagrations that are essentially uncontrollable.

This talk will take you inside a bushfire to see the physical processes involved in the combustion of vegetation, the generation and transfer of the heat released from the flames, and the spread of bushfires across the landscape.  It will also look at some of the latest research being conducted by CSIRO to improve our understanding and prediction of one of Australia’s most devastating natural phenomena. This research includes aspects of bushfire occurrence, growth and development of new outbreaks, behaviour and spread of large fires (with direct relation to a Black Saturday fire), the aerodynamics and combustion characteristics of firebrands, spotfire occurrence, development of tools for fuel moisture and fire behaviour prediction, fire suppression methods, and investigations of the greenhouse gas emissions of bushfires.

Dr Andrew Sullivan leads the CSIRO Land and Water Flagship's Bushfire Dynamics and Applications team. He has been involved in bushfire research since joining CSIRO in 1991.  He has a background in applied physics and computing and completed a PhD in competitive thermokinetics and non-linear bushfire behaviour at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering in 2008. He has been involved in a wide range of research projects, including the design of the fire spread and fire danger prediction systems and software, the study of the behaviour of forest fires under dry summer conditions, the development of models of radiant heat from bushfires, the study of wind and fire interaction and the investigation of spray protection systems for fire tankers. He was responsible for the design and construction of the CSIRO Pyrotron, a fire proof combustion wind tunnel used to study the combustion of bushfire fuels in a safe and repeatable manner.

Snacks will be held in the RSPE tearoom from 11:30am.

RSVP is not required however please arrive ten minutes early to secure a seat.

Updated:  26 September 2021/ Responsible Officer:  Director, RSPhys/ Page Contact:  Physics Webmaster