Teacher background information


Year 9 Science Content Description

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

Advances in scientific understanding often rely on technological advances and are often linked to scientific discoveries (ACSHE158 - Scootle )

  • researching how technological advances in monitoring greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental factors have contributed to the reinstatement of traditional fire management practices as a strategy to reduce atmospheric pollution (OI.2, OI.5, OI.9)

This elaboration provides students with a context in which to investigate the part that technological developments can play in providing new information that extends our scientific understanding of the natural world. It is an opportunity for students to learn about remote-sensing technologies and their role in providing data with which to monitor and validate greenhouse gas emissions. Students also learn about First Nations' traditional fire-management practices in northern Australia’s savanna regions, and how, now that their effects can be quantified, these practices have been recognised for their role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently too many fires in Australia’s savanna regions are large, intense wildfires burning during the late dry season (approximately October – November). Dried grasses and other vegetation devoid of moisture provide ample fuel for these highly-destructive, hot fires. They may burn for months, destroying tree canopies and significantly damaging vast areas. These fires produce nearly half of the Northern Territory’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

In comparison, the traditional Aboriginal fire management practice of early dry-season burning (approximately March – April) has been shown to be less damaging. These fires are ‘cooler’ burning as the fuel is not as dry, and dewy night-time conditions tend to extinguish the fires. A patchwork of carefully burnt areas also creates fire-breaks in the landscape, reducing the risk of late dry season wildfires spreading. As the area and fuel load burnt each year are reduced under this practice, there is a corresponding reduction in the emission of the potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide. There is also a corresponding increase in the amount of carbon being sequestered in dead organic matter.

Government authorities are now advocating the re-introduction of these traditional fire-management regimes in northern Australia’s savanna regions. The Carbon Farming Initiative allows carbon credits to be earned by storing carbon or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Aboriginal ranger groups, land councils, traditional owners, local communities and other organisations participating in the scheme use vegetation maps and satellite fire maps to determine the level of emission abatement achieved by the re-instated fire-management regime. (See elaboration for ACSHE160 for more detail on the economic benefits of this initiative.)

The ability to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires has only been made possible by advances in technology. NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) Terra (EOS AM-1) and Aqua (EOS PM-1) satellites carry the MODIS (MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) equipment that detects thermal anomalies, fires and biomass burning. This information can be used to monitor changes in the distribution, frequency and relative strength of fires.

Satellites, such as GOSAT, and OCO-2, carry instruments that measure carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. The newer GOSAT-2 satellite can obtain atmospheric concentrations of methane, water vapour and carbon monoxide, in addition to carbon dioxide. The molecules of these compounds absorb light at different specific wavelengths. Spectrometers on board the satellites measure the amount of light absorbed by the atmosphere at these specific wavelengths. These data can then be used to determine the local atmospheric concentration of each of these greenhouse gases. Scientists have also developed cost-effective mobile land-based instruments that can be deployed to quantify local and regional greenhouse gas sources and sinks.

While the principal aim of the Carbon Farming Initiative is carbon abatement, there are other environmental benefits, such as the effective recycling of soil nutrients and the maintenance of biodiversity-rich habitats by minimising the invasion of weeds and feral animals. The projects also provide an enduring economy for Aboriginal peoples as well as opportunities to maintain and strengthen connection with, and caring for, country.

Students studying this elaboration will have opportunities to research how technologies for measuring greenhouse gas emissions have led to a better understanding of the positive impact that reapplying traditional ecological knowledge of fire regimes can have on the atmosphere and on savanna environments. Students will also develop a greater appreciation of how improvements to our ability to quantify natural and anthropogenic processes can promote scientific understanding of underlying phenomena and result in innovative solutions to contemporary issues.

This teacher background information is written to explain how the history/culture of this topic overlaps with the content of the Australian Curriculum: Science. As such, it is not a complete review of the history/culture context/s investigated and may be referring to one component or concept of a highly complex topic. At times it may discuss only examples from either Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. A more complete understanding of the topic may be found through community consultation and further research.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

ABC News. (2015, 11 Aug). Real-time bushfire monitoring satellite system to be developed by Geoscience Australia. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-11/real-time-bushfire-monitoring-system-to-be-developed/6688510

Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. (2000). Fire! The Australian Experience. Proceedings of the National Academies Forum. University of Adelaide, SA: Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Limited.

Australian Government Climate Change Authority. (2017). Action on the land: Reducing emissions, conserving natural capital and improving farm profitability: An issues paper. Retrieved from http://www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/sites/prod.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/files/files/Action%20on%20the%20Land/AOTL2%20-%20Issues%20paper%20action%20on%20the%20land%209Mar.pdf

Barnsley, I., & North Australian Indigenous Land & Sea Management Alliance. (2009). A carbon guide for northern Indigenous Australians. United Nations University: Institute of Advanced Studies.

Clean Energy Regulator. (2018). Savanna fire management methods. Retrieved from http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/ERF/Choosing-a-project-type/Opportunities-for-the-land-sector/Savanna-burning-methods

Department of the Environment and Energy. (2016). National greenhouse and energy reporting scheme measurement: Technical guidelines for the estimation of emissions by facilities in Australia.  Retrieved from http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/climate-science-data/greenhouse-gas-measurement/publications/nger-technical-guidelines-reporting-year-2016-17

Department of the Environment and Energy. (2018). Emissions Reduction Fund publications and resources. Retrieved from http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/government/emissions-reduction-fund/publications

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. (2017, May 29). $34m Indigenous savanna fire management programme [Media release]. Retrieved from https://ministers.pmc.gov.au/scullion/2017/34m-indigenous-savanna-fire-management-programme

Gammage, B. (2011). The biggest estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin.

Garnaut Climate Change Review. (2010). Case Study: Abating greenhouse gas emissions through strategic management of savanna fires: Opportunities and challenges – Northern Territory. In R. Garnaut (Ed.), Garnaut Climate Change Review. Commonwealth of Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Giglio, L., Schroeder, W., & Justice, C. O. (2016). The collection 6 MODIS active fire detection algorithm and fire products. Remote Sensing of Environment, 178, 31-41. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2016.02.054

Green, D., Billy, J., & Tapim, A. (2010). Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate. Climate Change, 100, 337-354.

Hardwick, S., & Graven, H. (2016). Satellite observations to support monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions. In Grantham Institute Briefing paper No 16. London: Imperial College.

Heckbert, S., Russell-Smith, J., Davies, J., James, G., Cook, G., Liedloff, A., . . . Bastin, G. (2009). Northern savanna fire abatement and greenhouse gas offsets on Indigenous lands. In Northern Australia Land and Water Science Review Full Report. Canberra: Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.

Murphy, C. (2015, 10 Dec). Science, medicine and health: Fire emissions. Retrieved from https://smah.uow.edu.au/cac/fires/index.html

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (n.d.). MODIS data product non-technical description - MOD 14. Retrieved from https://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/dataprod/nontech/MOD14.php

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2018a). Aqua Earth-observing satellite mission. Retrieved from https://aqua.nasa.gov

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2018b). Thermal anomalies/fire. Retrieved from https://modis-land.gsfc.nasa.gov/fire.html

National Institute for Environmental Studies. (2016). About GOSAT-2 - observation. Retrieved from http://www.gosat-2.nies.go.jp/about/observation/

North Australia Fire Information. (2010). Frequently asked questions: Data and mapping. Retrieved from http://www.firenorth.org.au/nafi3/views/help/faq.pdf

North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd. (2012). Carbon. Retrieved from https://www.nailsma.org.au/programs/carbon.html

Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. (2008). Western Arnhem Land fire management. In Native Title Report 2007 (pp. 257-275). Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

The Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory (2017, April 13). Tender awarded for services to enhance Aboriginal participation in Queensland carbon farming [Media statement]. Retrieved from http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/4/13/tender-awarded-for-services-to-enhance-aboriginal-participation-in-queensland-carbon-farming

Russell-Smith, J. (n.d.) Fire agreement to strengthen communities. North Australian Land Manager. Retrieved from http://savanna.cdu.edu.au/view/250363/fire-agreement-to-strengthen-communities.html

University of Toronto. (2018). Fourteenth International workshop on greenhouse gas measurements from space [Presentation Archive]. Retrieved from https://iwggms14.physics.utoronto.ca/presentation-archive/

Xu, G., & Zhong, X. (2017). Real-time wildfire detection and tracking in Australia using geostationary satellite: Himawari-8. Remote Sensing Letters, 8(11), 1052-1061. doi:10.1080/2150704X.2017.1350303