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New UNSW bushfire research poised to save countless lives

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To address the growing threat of bushfires and firestorms in Australia, UNSW Canberra has partnered with the UNSW Division of Philanthropy to fundraise for the establishment of the Centre for Bushfire Dynamics, Simulation & Modelling.

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season has been the worst on record. Communities are still reeling from the devastating impact of these fires, hundreds of millions of animals have been killed, and ecosystems decimated. The new Centre for Bushfire Dynamics will address an urgent need for applied research into how extreme fires behave and how we manage them to ensure we can protect vulnerable communities, firefighters and ecosystems, and save countless lives.

The Centre will be led by Professor Jason Sharples, a pioneer in maths-driven research into extreme and unusual fire activity.

“To put it simply, I try to understand the conditions in which a small fire develops into a big fire and determine the chain of events and processes that leads to them,” Professor Sharples says. “Using mathematical models, you can forecast danger periods and areas where this is more likely to happen, so you can trigger responses to them and help prevent them.”

Building on UNSW’s strength in science and climate change research, UNSW aims to raise at least $10 million of philanthropic funding to launch this new world-leading research hub to drive further advancements in emergency service operations, urban design, planning codes and building standards.

Every year, bushfires in Australia burn out millions of hectares of land. They destroy homes, take lives and cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars. The frequency and intensity of these events are escalating rapidly, with major bushfires and firestorms now occurring up to three times more often than a century ago. 

“You can’t fight these types of fires,” says Professor Sharples. “We have to work out the best way of predicting the monsters and staying out of their way

UNSW invites members of our community to discuss opportunities to support the Centre to transform our capacity to prepare for and protect against the negative impacts of extreme fire behaviour.