The Science of Bushfires
An Internet WebQuest for Science Week 2002
Investigating Science in the Bush

created by UniServe Science

Introduction | The Task | The Process and Resources | Conclusion

WebQuest Direct


Bushfires are synonymous with summer - but how true is that truism? In the Top End they're a winter phenomenon. In southern Queensland and northern NSW they mainly hit in's only further south that summer is the bushfire season. Paradoxically, cold fronts make them much worse.
Source: Rob Webb, Bureau of Meteorology on ABC National Radio


It's an education thing, most people aren't aware of the fact that fire is one of the major tools that has shaped this continent and it is still shaping it...The most encouraging thing to me working in fire for a long time is that the biologists, the botanists now realise that fire is a necessary part of the environment and are looking for ways to re-introduce it.
Source: A Burning Issue, Landline, April 7 2002

Aborigines had the ability to care for land which enabled them to conserve and protect the flora and fauna, especially through their fire management practices. Europeans had no understanding of the land and treated it as treasure trove of goodies instead of a fragile environment and also stopped the traditional owners from caring for it.
Source: Tim Flannery, Eating the Future: Hypotheses, The Future Eaters, ABC

The Task

Your task is to investigate the role that scientists have played in the understanding of bushfire behaviour and their effect on the Australian landscape, both today and in the past. Is bushfire a necessary part of the Asutralian ecology? Are bushfires something that we as Australians just have to live with? Are all bushfires the same? What technologies are being used to monitor bushfires? Why is south-eastern Australia so vulnerable to bushfires? Why do they most often occur at the beginning of summer?

The Process and Resources


Phase 1 - Background: Something for Everyone


Now use the Internet information linked below to answer the basic questions of how an understanding of science can help in the prediction, monitoring and management of bushfire and their impact on the Australian environment. Be creative in exploring the information so that you answer these questions as fully and insightfully as you can.

Use the Internet information linked below to explore the whole picture and what others (some informed people, some with special interests) have to say on the subject.



Phase 2 - Looking Deeper from Different Perspectives


  1. Individuals or pairs from your larger WebQuest team will explore the science of bushfires from different professional perspectives.

  2. Read through the files linked to your group. If you print out the files, underline the passages that you feel are the most important. If you look at the files on the computer, copy sections you feel are important by dragging the mouse across the passage and copying / pasting it into a word processor or other writing software.

  3. Note: Remember to write down or copy/paste the URL of the file you take the passage from so you can quickly go back to it if you need to prove your point and so that you can reference your sources in your bibliography.


  • Bushfire Weather
    - from Bureau of Meteorology, Australia, outlines how weather affects bushfires and how bushfires affect the weather, online version
  • Bushfire Weather
    - from Bureau of Meteorology, Australia, outlines how weather affects bushfires and how bushfires affect the weather, pdf version
  • El Nino and the Southern Oscillation Index
    - from ACT Emergency Services Bureau, relates the occurrence of bushfires to the El Niño and the Southern Oscillation Index
  • Why wind shifts make fires spread faster
    - from Firebreak, Information on bushfires, from ACT Emergency Services Bureau
  • New Year brings more fire fears around Sydney
    - from Planet Ark
    1. Discuss the role of a meteorologist in predicting bushfires and their spread.
    2. Describe the weather conditions that prevailed in Sydney at the time of Black Christmas fires.
    3. Describe how weather conditions can affect bushfires.
    4. Explain why the bushfires "season" is different in various regions of Australia.
    5. Explain why bushfires occur every couple of years.


Remote Sensing/Geoscientist




Fire researcher


Medical researcher


Phase 3 - Debating, Discussing, and Reaching Consensus

You have all learned about a different aspect to the science of bushfires. Now group members come back to the larger WebQuest team with expertise gained by searching from one perspective.

You must all now answer the Task / Quest(ion) as a group. Each of you will bring a certain viewpoint to the answer: some of you will agree and others disagree. Use information, pictures, movies, facts, opinions, etc. from the web pages you explored to convince your team mates that your viewpoint is important and should be part of your team's answer to the Task / Quest(ion). Your WebQuest team should write out an answer that everyone on the team can live with.


Phase 4 - Real World Feedback

You and your team mates have learned a lot by dividing up to address different issues and points of view. Now's the time to put your learning into a format that can be shared with other interested people.

As a group, prepare recommendations for effective Bushfire Management. How can individuals be involved in Bushfire Management in a local area? What issues are better addressed at a State or Federal level? What is best for all Australians? There are many issues to address in understanding the science of bushfires and how they affect our environment.

Your group may decide to present their recommendations in written format, as a brochure or as a poster, in electronic format, as a presentation or web site, or through an oral presentation or debate.



How has science contributed to an understanding of bushfires, their prediction, monitoring and management, and their effect on the environment and the Australian landscape?

Border graphics © Darek Figa - original graphic can be viewed at Woronora Bushfire Brigade web site


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Last Update: Monday, 30-Apr-2012 14:53:07 AEST