In January 2019, TERN’s highly instrumented, long-term ecological research site in Tasmania’s Huon Valley was severely burnt. Fire consumed much of the understorey and scorched crowns of the eucalypt and blackwood overstorey.
The 80m tall monitoring tower survived the inferno, but a large amount of NCRIS-enabled TERN monitoring infrastructure was destroyed. Soil sensors, bio-acoustic recorders, dataloggers, power and communication cables, either melted or irreparable. The nearby iconic Tahune Airwalk, almost completly ruined.
Fire damage at the Warra site from January 2019 illustrating the variation in the severity of crown scorching, the complete consumption of the ground layer vegetation and the destruction of sensitive monitoring equipment (images courtesy of Tim Wardlaw and Sustainable Timber Tasmania)
Thanks to massive efforts by TERN and site partners, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and the University of Tasmania, the site was quickly made safe and most of the equipment reinstalled. By Winter 2019, scientists like UTAS’s Dr Tim Wardlaw, were back at TERN’s Warra Tall Eucalypt SuperSite conducting post-fire research to assess fire impacts and ecosystem recovery.
Analyses of the data indicate that there were several spikes in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 leading up to the fire and that around 10 tonnes CO2 per hectare was lost within a few hours during the passage of the fire. That is about the same amount of CO2 that almost two homes emit in a year. Work continues and will be published soon…
UTAS’s Dr Tim Wardlaw at TERN’s Warra Tall Eucalypt SuperSite conducting post-fire research to assess fire impacts and ecosystem recovery
In late November 2019, TERN’s Ecosystem Surveillance team joined Tim at the Warra site to conduct detailed vegetation and soil monitoring. Scattered in and around the Warra SuperSite are four one-hectare monitoring plots. Baseline data at the plots were collected in 2012 and since then have been used in studies that are, for example, improving bushfire behaviour models for Tasmanian wet forests and predicting how forests will respond to global change and forestry management.
The field team used TERN’s AusPlots Forests Survey Protocols to collect extensive information on soils, vegetation structure and composition, alongside information on species occurrence, community composition and assemblage distributional patterns across the landscape. They also collected hundreds of plant and soil samples that will be identified by experts and stored in herbaria and TERN’s open-access sample library.
Dr Wardlaw says that the on-ground data and samples collected at Warra will allow researchers to better understand post-fire ecosystem responses from all angles.
Nikki Francis (left) and Tamara Potter (right) from TERN’s Ecosystem Surveillance team joined Tim Wardlaw at the Warra site to conduct detailed vegetation and soil monitoring in late November 2019
Another exciting new development at TERN’s Warra SuperSite is a collaboration with the Tahune Airwalk to incorporate the science from the site into the popular tourist attraction’s “Bluestone” interpretation centre—a beautiful stone building on the site of the Airwalk cafe and reception centre, which thankfully escaped the fire. Dr Wardlaw and his team will chronicle the development of the fire from ignition to just after the passage of the fire through the site as recorded by instruments at the TERN site.
Dr Wardlaw says that eventually the Bluestone Shelter interpretation centre will use real-time data from the site’s instruments to tell a story of “how the forest is feeling" together with stories about the post-fire recovery of the forest and its sensitivity to warmer temperatures and more generally about the ecology of the wet eucalypt forests based on the knowledge we have gained from research using NCRIS-enables research infrastructure at TERN’s Warra SuperSite.
TERN would like to acknowledge the ongoing efforts of fire authorities, volunteers and communities working to control the current bushfires across Australia, and commend those working to ensure the safety of our regional communities, and protect our precious ecosystems.
In late November 2019, TERN’s Ecosystem Surveillance team joined UTAS and Sustainable Timber Tasmania at TERN Warra SuperSite to collect extensive information on soils, vegetation structure and composition, alongside information on species occurrence, community composition and assemblage distributional patterns across the landscape
Had a ripper time at #ESAus19 this week. Great talks, great people, and a great State. Was lucky enough to spend the last day of the week in the southwest checking out burned bush at the Warra experimental forest and another @TERN_Aus plot. The recovery here will be one to watch pic.twitter.com/18fNtcR4K9— Dr Tom Fairman (@itsnotfairman) November 29, 2019
Published in TERN newsletter December 2019