Multiscale experimentation and simulation of wildfire SPOTting

Call for PhD Candidates  

Summary: Wildfires pose a significant risk to human and environmental assets around the world, especially in Mediterranean region and Australia. Firebrands generated in wildfires is one of the most dangerous exposure mechanisms and the main cause of the house and life loss. They can be lifted by fire plume and transported far ahead of the fire front by wind (short-range) or convective column (medium- and long-range), initiate new fires and ignite structures. This process calls spotting and consists of generation, transport and fuel ignition mechanisms. Although short-, medium- and long-range spotting are parts of the same process, they are still studied separately, and there are no multiscale models that include all mechanisms. The key idea of this project is that spotting must be considered simultaneously at all scales in order to understand the generation (combustion) and transport (atmospheric convection) of firebrands, as well as the ignition mechanism of fuel beds and structures (fire dynamics). This holistic approach is needed to develop a new generation of coupled fire-atmosphere numerical models that will improve the prediction and prevention of wildfires and their impact on communities.

Résumé: Parmi les menaces causées par les incendies, les sautes sont l’un des mécanismes les plus dangereux et principales causes de perte de structure. Le processus comprend un allumage jusqu’à la braise incandescente, son transport et le ré-allumage. Il peut se produire simultanément à plusieurs échelles, en fonction de la météorologie et de la végétation. Les sautes à courte distance peuvent faire avancer le front de feu (quelques mètres), tandis que la convection peut soulever les braises dans le panache jusqu’à de longue distance (jusqu’à un kilomètre). Peu d’efforts de modélisation se consacrent à toutes ces échelles et notre objectif dans le programme SPOT est de comprendre (expériences/simulations à petite échelle à U.Melbourne), de paramétrer l’ensemencement et le ré- allumage (modélisation physique conjointe) et simuler à l’échelle du paysage les sautes par approche couplée feu- atmosphère (calculs haute performance, CNRS à U.Corsica) et estimer le danger d’un incendie en cours. 

The project will be led by Dr Filippi (CNRS, France) and Dr Filkov (UoM, Australia). Dr Filippi and Dr Filkov have considerable experience in fire behaviour and risk, computational modelling, field and laboratory experiments. Dr Filippi has worked extensively on modelling and simulation aspects of wildfire behaviour and has specific expertise in examining fire-weather interaction. He led two major collaborative national research programs (with ANR funding) on the topic and developed and coded an operational fire behaviour simulation system. Dr Filkov has a specific experience in studying Wildland-Urban Interface and extreme wildfires. During the previous decades, he has conducted laboratory experiments on fuel ignition and fire spread, organized several field experiments in the USA, Australia and Russia, and worked on modelling of firebrands. 

The project offers two interconnected PhD scholarships: 

  1. Downscaling atmospheric processes to combustion (CNRS at the University of Corsica, UMR CNRS 6134, France); 
  2. Upscaling combustion processes to fire-atmosphere interactions (University of Melbourne, Australia) 
    Conceptual framework 

    The overall aim of the proposed research is to better understand the phenomenon of short- and long-range spotting during wildland and prescribed fires and develop mathematical models for their simulation. This aim will be realized through the series of inter-related objectives covering all components of the spotting across these scales. 

    Year 1 – Source: Conduct innovative medium- and large-scale laboratory experiments to identify the mechanisms of firebrand formation potential as a function of fuel type, weather conditions and fire intensity (UoM) to create a simplified model (CNRS) that considers downscaled atmospheric properties (turbulence, wind, heat, moisture…) 

    Year 2 – Generation: Develop statistical models of firebrand lofting, combustion duration, and distribution at fire front scale (UoM) and upscale them to large-range spotting (CNRS and UoM) considering the flow near the source. 

    Transport: Incorporate statistical models into a fire-atmosphere propagation models to predict a long-range spotting at landscape scale (CNRS) and compare to relevant Australian wildfire data (UoM). 

    Year 3 –  Ignition (across scales): Develop numerical and statistical models of re-ignition potential of firebrands (CNRS, UoM) and ignition probability of vegetation and structures (UoM, CNRS). 

    Overall, the work is divided by scale: the UoM PhD candidate will focus on small-scale effects but will develop experiments and models to upscale combustion processes to atmospheric scale, while the CNRS PhD candidate will focus on modelling fire-atmosphere interactions and downscaling them to fire front combustion processes. Each PhD candidate is required to spend 12 months in total in partner organisation (see project timetable).  

    Research Environment 

    The successful applicant will undertake a PhD project at either the University of Corsica or the University of Melbourne, conducting cutting edge research in fire behaviour and risk. The project will involve both laboratory and field experiments as well as modelling work. 

    Project timetable  
     Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 
     France Australia France Australia France Australia 
    CNRS candidate 12 mths  6 mths 6 mths 6 mths 6 mths 
    UoM candidate  12 mths 6 mths 6 mths 6 mths 6 mths 

    Student Background 

    At Melbourne – Applicants should have:

    • A degree in mechanical/fire protection engineering, computer science 
    • A relevant Honours/Master’s degree at a high level (H1 or First-Class Honours degree or similar). 
    • Knowledge of CFD modelling and experimental methods is highly desirable. 
    • Excellent analytical and problem-solving skills and strong written and verbal communication skills.  

    At CNRS – Applicants should have:

    • A degree in physics, mathematics, computer science or a closely related environmental or physical science.  
    • A relevant Honours/Master’s degree at a high level (H1 or First-Class Honours degree or similar).
    • An interest in atmospheric dynamics and/or combustion.
    • Experience and an interest in programming and/or model development is essential for this PhD. Strong motivation to develop skills in this area is also important. 

    All applications should be directed to: 

    The application should include a CV, academic transcripts and any other relevant information. 

    Interview rounds

    Round 1: May 15, 2022

    Round 2: August 1, 2022 (if positions are not filled)

    Round 3:  October 1, 2022 (if positions are not filled) 

    Expected start date and budget 

    University of Corsica:

    • September-December 2022
    • Full PhD Grant. 9,000 Euro for travel to Australia. 

    University of Melbourne

    • March 2023 
    • Tax-free scholarship for 3 years, including a stipend. Refer to the Graduate Research Scholarship page for full details. 10,000 AUD for travel to France.