Aircraft equipped with cutting edge imaging technology are helping researchers create 3D maps of South Australia’s bushfire grounds in a bid to boost understanding of fire behaviour.
- Planes flying 250 metres above the ground gather data which is used to build interactive maps
- The aircraft are modified to include special sensors and high-resolution cameras
- Researchers hope the project will help the public better understand and prepare for fires
Adelaide-based Airborne Research Australia is using modified light planes to fly 250 metres above the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, where recent fires caused widespread destruction.
Data gathered during the flights is then used to build interactive maps, which the organisation said could assist communities in reducing fire risks on local properties and help researchers track fire movements.
Pilot and chief scientist Professor Jorg Hacker said the planes are fitted with special sensors, high-resolution cameras and so-called LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology.
“It shoots laser beams down to the ground, hundreds of thousands of them per second, and then it measures what comes back,” he said.
From that information, scientists can create detailed maps showing the direction of the fire, affected areas and surviving pockets of land.
“If part of a tree has burnt you can see that very clearly, you then also know from the LiDAR measurements if the tree still has leaves, or whether it’s bare,” Professor Hacker said.
“You see the underlying surface, so you see where little creek beds are, where depressions are in the ground — that will give you a clue [about] what you have to do to rehabilitate this.”
Environmental experts recently warned the Ravine fire which blackened almost half of Kangaroo Island could lead to the destruction of rare species.
The University of Adelaide’s environment director, Professor Bob Hill, said many plants and animals had adapted to survive bushfires — but not to the ferocity of blazes like those on Kangaroo Island.
He said the 3D mapping would complement on-ground surveillance.
“The scale of this fire is so huge that we really need to get an overall view of what’s happened out there,” he said.
“When we start doing the work on the ground to try and see the recovery process, which you do need to do intensively with a hands-on approach, you’ve got some sense of where you are in the overall scale of things.”
Professor Hill said it was important that researchers try to understand what impact South Australia’s bushfires would have on the environment in the longer term.
“The regeneration process could be very poor or might even fail altogether — we’ve rarely seen that happen before,” he said.
Professor Hacker has already done five flights over South Australia but said more were planned, and said people in bushfire zones could request them.
He hopes flights will continue in coming months, so researchers could monitor regrowth.
“Long ago when we had the fires in the hinterland of Melbourne in the hills, we did a study like this,” he said.
“It was absolutely dramatic to see where and what did re-grow.”