University of Tasmania Professor of Environmental Change Biology David Bowman led an international collaboration - including researchers from the University of Idaho and South Dakota State University - to compile a global satellite database of the intensity of 23 million landscape fires used to identify 478 of the most extreme wildfire events.

“Extreme fire events are a global and natural phenomenon, particularly in forested areas that have pronounced dry seasons,” Professor Bowman said.

With the exception of land clearance, the research found that extremely intense fires are associated with anomalous weather – such as droughts, winds, or in desert regions, following particularly wet seasons.

“Of the top 478 events, we identified 144 economically and socially disastrous extreme fire events that were concentrated in regions where humans have built into flammable forested landscapes, such as areas surrounding cities in southern Australia and western North America.”

Using climate change model projections to investigate the likely consequences of climate change, the research found more extreme fires are predicted in the future for Australia’s east coast, including Brisbane, and the whole of the Mediterranean region – Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Turkey.

The projections suggest an increase in the days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20 to 50 per cent in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere, and the European Mediterranean Basin, Professor Bowman said.

The research was released on the day the State remembers the impact of the 1967 bushfires in the city of Hobart and across the South, which claimed the lives of 62 people, left 900 injured and more than 7,000 homeless.

The research has been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student

About Professor David Bowman

Professor Bowman holds a research chair in Environmental Change Biology. His field of inquiry spans ecology, evolution, biogeography and management of environmental change using Australia as a model system. He is particularly interested in researching the ecological impacts of landscape fire, and the interplay between human and biomass burning, a field of inquiry he describes as 'pyrogeography'. Hallmarks of Professor Bowman's research are crossing disciplinary boundaries, building enduring research partnerships and translating research findings to broader policy and management debates.

View Professor David Bowman's full researcher profile