High country bushfire lab


A unique mobile laboratory is measuring greenhouse gases in Australia’s high country.

The fully-self contained laboratory is housed within a 4WD vehicle and trailer and includes sophisticated scientific equipment that takes continuous measurements of CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The mobile lab is currently sitting in an alpine ash forest at Howmans Gap, just below Falls Creek in north-east Victoria and is being rotated around other Bushfire CRC research sites across alpine Australia. The research is part of the federally funded HighProject, which was set up after the 2003 alpine bushfires to look at fire and fuel management in the high country.

Federal Member for Indi, Mrs Sophie Mirabella, Kevin O’Loughlin, CEO of the Bushfire CRC, left, and Professor Mark Adams, HighFire Project Leader, rightThe launch (June 2007) was attended by 30 invited guests from local fire and land management agencies and other industries including forestry and tourism. The Federal Member for Indi, Mrs Sophie Mirabella (pictured with Kevin O’Loughlin, CEO of the Bushfire CRC, left, and Professor Mark Adams, HighFire Project Leader, right), officially launched the research equipment and took part in a tour of the research site.

The launch coincided with a public forum on bushfire research in Wangaratta held the following day. The evening event at the Playhouse Theatre attracted 90 workers and residents from across north-east Victoria. The audience heard about Bushfire CRC research projects into fire behaviour, high country ecosystems and community resilience and took the opportunity to discuss local bushfire issues with the researchers. This event is part of a series of Bushfire CRC forums that are informing communities in bushfires regions of research happening in their area.

The mobile greenhouse laboratory was built in north-east Victoria based on original designs from the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Research, in Garmisch, Germany. The Institute advised that the unit would only operate if connected to a mains power supply but the Bushfire CRC research team have successfully engineered it to operate in a range of rugged alpine environments using a truck battery for portable power.

According to Prof Mark Adams, HighFire Project Leader, the unit’s mobility enabled the researchers to gather significant amounts of new scientific data.

“This component of HighFire is focused on establishing the scientific basis for decisions about the use and management of Australia’s high country,” he said.

“It is tackling difficult and contentious issues such as the use of prescribed fire to manage fuels, high country grazing, and how the high country should be managed to ensure security of water yield and prevent excessive additions of carbon to the atmosphere.”

(This article first appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Fire Australia magazine)