School of Earth Sciences - Theses

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    Fire weather in two regions of the Southern Hemisphere
    Pazmiño, Daniel ( 2017)
    This thesis investigated fire weather in Victoria, Australia and the Ecuadorian Andes. The selection of these areas considered several criteria. First of all, bushfires cause significant impacts in these two regions. Victoria has endured some of the most catastrophic bushfire events in Australian history (e.g. “Black Friday” (1939), “Ash Wednesday” (1983), “Black Saturday” (2009)). On the other hand, bushfires in Ecuador destroy every year large areas of national parks in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Secondly, the El Niño- Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a strong climate driver in the two study areas. Finally, Victoria and Ecuador share the Eucalyptus as the dominant bushfire-prone species. The aim of this thesis is to better understand the drivers and evolution of fire weather in these two regions of the Southern Hemisphere. Specifically, it examined three aspects. First of all, it investigated fire weather spatial patterns in Victoria and their relationship with associated events like heatwaves. Subsequently, the study explored long-term fire weather variability and changes. Finally, the investigation evaluated the influence of ENSO and other climate drivers over fire weather. The analyses used three groups of data: bushfire records, meteorological and climate indices data. Consistent bushfire records were available only for Victoria during the period 1961-2010. Additionally, the investigation required observations from weather stations in Victoria and the Ecuadorian Andes. This research also analysed reanalysis data from the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project (20CR) and the European Reanalysis of Global Climate Observations ERA-Clim project (ERA-20C). The study had a stronger emphasis on ENSO since it affects both regions. This research used two indices to represent fire weather. The first index was the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI). This Australian metric was designed for an Eucalyptus environment. Therefore, this investigation applied the FFDI for Victoria and Ecuador. Additionally, this thesis proposes an alternative fire weather index for Victoria: the “Victorian Seasonal Bushfire Index” (VSBI). The VSBI combines local meteorological variables and sea surface temperature in ENSO regions to represent—and predict—extreme fire weather. The investigation of fire weather in Victoria and the Ecuadorian Andes yielded several findings. First of all, bushfire and heatwave weather patterns display differences from one another in Victoria. These comparisons used synoptic climatologies with reanalysis data during the period 1961-2010. Additionally, the investigation showed that Victoria experienced an increase in fire danger during the period 1974-2010. There is also weaker evidence suggesting an increasing trend since 1920. “El Niño” events are the leading remote driver of fire activity in Victoria. In fact, the incorporation of ENSO indicators in a simple index (VSBI) shows skill to forecast extreme fire weather in this region. For the Ecuadorian Andes, this research indicates that its fire danger season (July-September) is longer than reported. October and November also display “high” fire danger during the period 1997-2012. Finally, “El Niño” events increase fire risk in the Ecuadorian Andes.