Bushfire scientist wins medal | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Bushfire scientist wins medal

Photo: Natural Hazards Research Australia

A significant honour from the Australian Academy of Science has been awarded to a bushfire researcher from Natural Hazards Research Australia.

The 2024 Frederick White Medal recognises Dr Hamish Clarke (University of Melbourne) for his dedication to advancing Australian bushfire science, including his work with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

The biennial Frederick White Medal recognises Australian scientists who are engaged in research that makes a tangible impact on community interests, rural or industrial progress or the understanding of natural phenomena and the impacts on people.

Hamish’s research explores all things bushfire science, ranging from prescribed burning to the impacts on communities, driven by real-world applications. His research seeks to understand how bushfire risk is affected under a changing climate by utilising his multi-disciplinary skills and working closely with the community and people on the ground.

Part of Hamish’s recognition as the Frederick White Medallist is his research and development of the Prescribed Burning Atlas at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. The Prescribed Burning Atlas was developed by a team of researchers and assesses the effectiveness of different prescribed burning strategies. It is used by fire managers to identify the optimal approach for prescribed burning by tailoring strategies to different environments, taking into account the costs, estimated risk reduction, protecting environmental values and the likelihood of life or property loss.

Hamish also led research after the 2019/20 fire season, with a project reconstructing bushfires in South Australia that has provided further evidence to help prescribed burning planning in South Australia. The research created an opportunity for the Prescribed Burning Atlas to be regularly used in the state, demonstrating real-world application for fire managers to effectively plan for bushfire response and bushfire risk reduction in South Australia.

As lead researcher for the Centre’s project What makes a good fire simulator?, Hamish uses a solutions-focus to understand the strengths and weaknesses of current fire simulators and provide guidance on how to improve them in the future. He is engaging directly with the fire behaviour analysts who use fire simulators through consultation. Fire simulators are used to identify risks and prioritise mitigation activities and Hamish will use the findings to help improve the systems to benefit future users. Hamish is also part of the team on the Climate change engagement and communications practice review project, undertaken directly for the Victorian Department of Environment and Climate Action.

In addition to his contributions to bushfire research, the award recognises Hamish’s excellent skills as a science communicator. Hamish makes science accessible to the public as a freelance writer, as well as speaking at public events and on the radio. He co-founded Science at the Local ten years ago to talk about science at pubs in the Blue Mountains, which delivers engaging, community-centred science communication and creates connections between locals and scientists.

Centre CEO Andrew Gissing says that Hamish’s research exemplifies research that is useful, useable and used.

“It is through the commitment and expertise of researchers like Hamish that we can make advancements in bushfire science. Hamish should be proud that his research plays a vital role in disaster risk reduction and keeping communities safe.”

Congratulations to Hamish on winning the well-deserved 2024 Frederick White Medal.

Learn more about Hamish and the award in the video below.