Outcomes of the France and Australia Bushfire Science webinar #ST21 [fr]
Australian and French researchers have shared, discussed and anticipated research relevant to bushfire in order to strengthen research collaborations between France and Australia
Thank you to our large audience and our 40 speakers for participating in the Franco-Australian Workshop on Bushfire Science. Set up in partnership with the French Embassy in Australia, the Group of Eight, the Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC, and the European competitiveness unit SAFE Cluster, this workshop provided a forum to explore and exchange on the expertise and best practices of the two countries, and on the more advanced research concerning the management of bushfires.
The workshop opened with a speech by the Ambassador of France in Australia, Mr. Christophe Penot, the CEO of the Collaborative Research Centre, Dr. Richard Thornton, and the Interim Chair of the Group of Eight, Prof. Margaret Gardner. They explained the context of this workshop, and its purpose: to share our tools, our knowledge, and our strengths in order to respond in the best possible way to the forthcoming global changes that will affect us all.
Fire professionals were given the floor during the first panel to share their experiences and explain how science and international collaborations could help predict risks, alert populations, and equip and prepare firefighters. They explained and compared French and Australian response systems, training for firefighters, and the importance of exchanging good practices between countries. They also stressed the importance of scientific forecasting, using satellite imagery and mapping, to allow better preparation, and better monitoring of the situation for populations and firefighters. The latest fire crises have been marked by the extensive use of scientific data on the duration and risks of the fire season, as well as on fire behaviour according to weather conditions.
The second panel made it possible to compare the studies made, in France and Australia, on fire behaviour. Processes such as the behaviour of fires according to their size, the spread of polluting smoke clouds, the formation of storms, or pyro-cumulous-nimbus, (these clouds formed by the fire itself that can create real thunderstorms at the heart of the fire) were discussed.
The third panel discussed country-specific regulations on traditional fire-use practices, as well as urban fire-risk management. While fire has always been a human tool for modifying landscapes, mainly for deforestation and agriculture, institutional legislations must frame its practice. Prescribed fires can manage the amount of fuel in forests. But coordinated efforts between municipalities and governments must also regulate the planning of urban areas, taking into account the choice of materials used, the particularities of the areas at the city-to-forest interface, needs related to crisis management in the area, or the behaviour of the inhabitants, in order to reduce the impacts and risk posed by fires.
The impact of fires on our societies, our health, our economy, as well as on our environment are sometimes impossible to estimate. What is the price of a human life? The price of the loss of biodiversity? The price of an air that has become unbreathable? The hidden cost of losses that do not have a defined value in economic markets were the subject of the fourth panel. Inhalation of toxic smokes that have invaded many Australian cities will have long-term health effects. The loss of hectares of forest will affect the survival of koalas and many other species. These crises will also affect tourism, transportation, or our mental health… These indirect effects must be taken into account in today’s decisions, in order to form a better prepared and more resilient society.
This question of resilience also concerns the forests destroyed by the fires. Environmental restoration was the subject of the fifth panel of this workshop. Climate studies and its interactions with forest biodiversity and their fire regimes have been described, as these models provide decision-making tools for better management of forests and future risks. But fires are an inherent part of the natural cycle of Australia’s forests, and species survival strategies are adapted. If an environmental restoration effort is needed after a fire, resources should also be directed towards risk prevention, through forest management, perhaps with a different mix of species compared to the original forest? ...
Finally, the last panel looked towards the future, with discussions around future risks. Future risks will depend on economic development, population growth and health, volunteer firefighter rates, climate change… Earth observation and climate modelling tools were presented to determine these future risks of cyclones, droughts, heat waves, and of course… of fires.
The workshop concluded with a panel explaining the funding tools available for collaborations between France, Europe and Australia. Programs such as the European Green Deal, the French FASIC program, or the ARC, NHMRC or CRC Australian programs provide funding for international collaborations in this area. This workshop allowed a first contact between Australian and French scientists, who were able to exhibit their research and their models. It has paved the way for more intensive exchanges and, we hope, for strengthening scientific collaborations in this area.
Here is the link to the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC website for the presentations slideshow : https://www.bnhcrc.com.au/events/2020-franceaustbushfireworkshop