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MIDDLE SCHOOL

ACTIVITY

LOCAL BUSHFIRES

ONLINE GIS ACTIVITY

GEOGRAPHY TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION OF QUEENSLAND
SIMPLE GIS ACTIVITY
The following activity has been developed with those new to spatial technologies specifically in mind. You will
only need an internet-enabled computer and a browser (such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google
Chrome) to view the site and complete the activity. Your students could even work through the activity in pairs
if getting into a computer room is difficult, and not being a business teacher this is probably the case!
The site itself is the Geoscience Australia Sentinel Bushfire Mapper. This site was set up to enable landowners
and those involved in the bushfire hazard to see a range of data in their local area that could help them
understand and respond to a bushfire hazard with more accurate and relevant data at hand. Be sure to look at
the other free GIS websites from the Contour Education Links page (see Step 2).

STUDENT ACTIVITY SHEET
STEP ONE
Open your web browser
and go to the Geoscience Australia Bushfire Hazards page at
http://www.ga.gov.au/hazards/bushfire/.
Here you will find a range of resources relating to the bushfire hazard. Read through the site (you may need to
look at the ‘Further Reading’ section) and answer the questions below.
Question 1: List three differences between grass fires and bushfires.



Question 2: What are the seven factors that contribute to the bushfire hazard? Explain each one with a
sentence or two about how it contributes to bushfires.







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Question 3: Where in Australia are bushfires most damaging? Why here? ______________________________
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Go to the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BoM) Bushfire Weather page (link from Geoscience Australia page or
http://www.bom.gov.au/weather-services/bushfire/about-bushfire-weather.shtml) and answer the following
questions using the resources on the page.
Question 4: What time of the year is the bushfire season where you live? _______________________________
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Question 5: Explain the weather conditions that help to contribute to a severe bushfire event. Use the
examples from the Ash Wednesday fires to help. ___________________________________________________
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Question 6: How can temperature inversions increase bushfire severity in the afternoon? _________________
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STEP TWO
Go to the Geoscience Australia Sentinel Site. Navigate to http://www.contoureducation.com/links.php and
look for the Geoscience Australia Sentinel link. There are many other simple, online GIS sites that you can
check out here as well if you finish your work early.
Once you are into the site select the ‘Broadband’ link to the right of screen and then read and accept the
disclaimer agreement to enter the site. A map of Australia will appear.
Note that you can add and remove a range of layers using the ‘Layers’ tab to the right of screen. You can also
search for a location using the ‘Find’ and ‘Find Results’ tabs here.

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Also note that MODIS and NOAA are two separate satellites; it is best just to keep to the default MODIS
readings. You can also change the background if yours is taking too long to draw.

STEP THREE

Examine the current (last 24 hours) spread of hotspots around the country.
Question 7: For this time of the year, would you expect more or less bushfires or is this about right? Explain.
Zoom into Queensland.
Question 8: Describe the location of hotspots around the state using direction and locations to help your
description (if there are no bushfires right now, describe the distribution of bushfire hotspots around the
country).
Question 9: You are about to look at weather data. Which of the following (circle) would create worse bushfire
conditions. Circle your answer then explain.
High or Low Wind Speeds? ____________________________________________________________________
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High or Low Air Pressure? _____________________________________________________________________
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Now open the ‘Bureau of Meteorology folder in the layers list on the right of your screen. Turn on the ‘Wind
Analysis’ and the ‘MSLP Analysis’ (Mean Sea Level Pressure). This data is taken from the most recent BoM
readings.
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Note that the wind is moving in the direction of the pointy end of the symbol while the lines of pressure are all
connected along the same value.

Question 10: After viewing the current wind and air pressure data, how would you rate the overall bushfire
risk of Queensland at this time on a scale of 1 (very small) to 10 (severe)?
1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Very small
risk

9

10
Severe risk

Justify your decision using the information that you have collected during this activity on how bushfires
function and what influences them.______________________________________________________________
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STEP FOUR
You will now examine the overall risk of your local area. Your task in this step will be to complete the following
table where you rate your local risk according to a range of key factors. You will use the layers listed to help
you determine the risk for each factor.
Factor

Explanation

Layers to use

Score

Local
Climate

Higher
temperatures
and
winds
during high-risk
periods increase
severity.

Bureau of Meteorology Australia
and
local
weather layers.

Notes

/10
Topography

More hills and
gullys increase
the
bushfire
severity
and
speed.

Backgrounds
topographic.

250k

/10

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Factor

Explanation

Layers to use

Score

Population
Density

More people on
the rural/urban
fringe
means
more at risk
when an event
occurs.

250k Vector Maps –
PopulatedPlaces
and
BuiltUpAreas.

Proximity to
Fire
Services

The closer you
are
to
fire
fighting services
the less your
risk.

Your
own
knowledge.

Notes

/10
local

/10
Your scoring system will follow the scoring system from Question 10 where 1 is a very small risk and 10 severe
risk.
Notes: Zoom into your local area and you will notice that a new range of layers become visible. You can now
view local weather information from the latest weather readings as well as local roads, populated places and
transport and drainage.

EXTENSION STEP
If you complete your work with time to spare, you can move on to this extension task where you will examine
the 2009 ‘Black Saturday’ fires in Victoria.
Zoom your map into Victoria. You could change your background to the ‘Landsat Mosaic 2004’ if your current
image is too cloudy. To turn off roads etc, go to the ‘250k Vector Maps’ section. Turn off the bushfires that are
currently selected (0-12 hours and 12-24 hours).

Now place a checkmark in the ‘ModisByDate’ box in the Layers list. This will allow you to enter two dates and
view all hotspots that were recorded between those two dates. You are going to enter dates around the 2009
‘Black Saturday’ fires in Victoria. Enter the ‘Start date’ as 07/02/2009 and the ‘End date’ as 13/02/2009.

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Now look at the extent of hotspots over those 6 days (use the zoom tools). Where do they occur relative to
Melbourne? ________________________________________________________________________________
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In the Layers section, turn on the ‘250k topographic map’ background and zoom into the region Northwest of
Melbourne with a lot of bushfire activity.

What is the topography like where the bushfires occurred? What about other landuse in this area – how is the
land used where the bushfires occurred? _________________________________________________________
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Since the Ash Wednesday many more people have moved into the Greater Melbourne region. Many of these
have chosen to live on the rural/urban fringe on subdivided blocks of land (on average 5-10 times the size of a
city block of land). How would this fact increase the potential severity of bushfires in these areas and how do
you think it contributed to the large loss of life in Victoria in 2009? ____________________________________
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Mick Law runs Contour Education, a consultancy specialising in assisting educators with coming to grips with
spatial technologies. For more information on the range of free spatial technologies available to teachers and
schools contact Mick via info@contoureducation.com or call 0431 665 879.

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