18 August 2010

New Paper on Australian Bushfires

I am a co-author on a new paper on Australian bushfires, just accepted for publication in the journal Weather, Climate and Society of the AMS. Here is the abstract and citation:

This study re-evaluates the history of building damage and loss of life due to bushfire (wildfire) in Australia since 1925 in light of the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria in which 173 people lost their lives and 2,298 homes were destroyed along with many other structures. Historical records are normalised in order to estimate building damage and fatalities had events occurred under the societal conditions of 2008/09. There are relationships between normalised building damage and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean Dipole phenomena, but there is no discernable evidence that the normalised data is being influenced by climate change due to the emission of greenhouse gases. The 2009 Black Saturday fires rank second in terms of normalised fatalities and fourth in terms of normalised building damage. The public safety concern is that of the 10 years with the highest normalised building damage the 2008/09 bushfire season ranks third, to the 1925/26 and 1938/39 seasons, in terms of the ratio of normalised fatalities to building damage. A feature of the building damage in the 2009 Black Saturday fires in some of the most affected towns – Marysville and Kinglake – is the large proportion of buildings destroyed either within bushland or at very small distances from it (<10 m). Land use planning policies in bushfire-prone parts of this country that allow such development increase the risk that bushfires pose to the public and the built environment.

Crompton, R. P., K. J. McAneney, K. Chen, R. A. Pielke Jr., and K. Haynes, 2010 (in press): Influence of Location, Population and Climate on Building Damage and Fatalities due to Australian Bushfire: 1925-2009. Weather, Climate, and Society.
While it is certainly interesting that we do not find any signal of long-term climate change in the loss record, that finding certainly is not entirely unexpected given the growing body of research in this area.  The more significant findings of this paper have to do with issues of land-use planning and the relationship of bushfire damage to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean Dipole phenomena.

In due course I'll post up a pre-publication version of the paper.