A billion trees in a warming world
Wednesday 21 Nov 2018
Farah Hancock reports (for Newsroom).
When Tim Curran arrived at Lincoln University from Australia the first piece of equipment he asked for was a barbecue.
He wasn’t planning to throw a prawn on it. The barbecue, purpose-built out of a 44- gallon drum, is essential to the ecologist’s research into the flammability of different plants.
It’s a low-tech tool to understand a growing risk. Climate change means the number of days where the risk of fire is classed as very high or extreme are expected to increase by 71 percent in New Zealand by 2040.
With the One Billion Trees programme adding more fuel to the countryside his work represents the life and death importance of finding the right tree for the right place.
All trees will burn, but some burn faster and hotter than others. Curran’s barbecue weeds out the fierce burners.
“It would be best if you could burn a whole plant, which is fine if you are dealing with a grass, it’s harder for a shrub and it’s pretty much impossible for a tree,” said Curran.
His solution is to burn 70cm shoots in his barbecue.
“That retains the leaves in the architecture they are found in on the plant. It ensures the fuel [shoot] is a bit more realistic as to how it might burn in the field.”
Once on the barbecue, readings are taken measuring how quickly the shoot ignites, how long it burns for and the temperature it burns at.
Typically, the more moisture the plant has in its leaves, the less flammable it is. Another factor is how much oil or resin a plant has.
“In general, pine species are going to be quite high in flammability because they’ve got some of these volatile chemicals. The pine resins and other things you smell when you walk through a pine forest are some of the things that ignite easily in a fire.”
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