New Australian online mapping tool to help detect flammable vegetation

The Australian Flammability Monitoring System is a new vegetation condition and flammability online mapping tool that is expected to support fire and land managers in Australia.

The mapping tool uses satellite data to collect information on moisture content in highly flammable vegetation such as fallen bark, leaf litter and grass. It then displays this information on an interactive map, which will help fire managers in determining burning efforts and preparing of firefighting resources.

A team of researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) developed the monitoring tool - the first web-based system of its kind in Australia - as part of the Mapping bushfire hazards and impacts research project with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

Emergency services and land management agencies can use the system’s different filters and settings to evaluate the risk of a bushfire occurring in certain parts of the country, based on the dryness of soil and fuels, and the flammability of vegetation.

The system generates freely accessible fuel moisture and flammability maps.

The prototype system used satellite data to provide a clear picture of the landscape where there are high levels of vegetation and soil dryness, which are the perfect conditions for a severe bushfire. The satellite data was then used to formulate an algorithm for fuel moisture content, which can be compared to previous years and recommendations can be made for a given location.  

“If you compare the current dryness values for a location with the values of previous weeks or months, you can have a sense of how much drier the land is than it was last season, for example, and that may give you an idea of how much danger could be in your specific area,” says Dr Marta Yebra, who leads the project.

The process of refreshing data on the map is currently complicated as the satellite data needs to be collected, algorithms run, and data then downloaded into the Australian National University (ANU) database. The plan is to provide an automatic update of the map, with daily live data.

The team is testing the system in its present state before identifying where it can be used by fire managers and the community. The findings will be shared with stakeholders for feedbacks and inform land managers of the benefits of using a tool such as seminars and workshops. These types of educational events will help inform fire and land managers of the benefits of using a tool such as the Australian Flammability Monitoring System in their organisation.

For now, the core audience for the system is fire managers, but in the future, Dr. Yebra hopes that use of the mapping could expand to individual community members such as farmers. Those on the land could use the mapping to assess how dry their patch is when preparing for the fire season.