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Nicholas McCarthy, Hamish McGowan, Adrien Guyot, and Andrew Dowdy


The process of pyroconvection occurs when fire-released heat, moisture, and/or aerosols induce or augment convection in the atmosphere. Prediction of pyroconvection presents a set of complex problems for meteorologists and wildfire managers. In particular, the turbulent characteristics of a pyroconvective plume exert bidirectional feedback on fire behavior, often with resulting severe impacts on life and property. Here, we present the motivation, field strategy, and initial results from the Bushfire Convective Plume Experiment, which through the use of mobile radar aims to quantify the kinematics of pyroconvection and its role in fire behavior. The case studies presented include world-first observations from two wildfires and one prescribed burn using the University of Queensland’s portable, dual-polarized X-band Doppler radar (UQ-XPOL). The initial analyses of reflectivity, Doppler winds, polarimetric variables, and spectrum width data provide insights into these relatively unexplored datasets within the context of pyroconvection. Weather radar data are supported by mesonet observations, time-lapse photography, airborne multispectral imaging, and spot-fire mapping. The ability to combine ground-validated fire intensity and progression at an hourly scale with quantitative data documenting the evolution of the convective plume kinematics at the scale of hundreds of meters represents a new capability for advancing our understanding of wildfires. The results demonstrate the suitability of portable, dual-polarized X-band Doppler radar to investigate pyroconvection and associated plume dynamics.

Open access