Position: Extreme Fire Project Leader, Scion
Field: Rural fire research
Grant was interested in science and the natural environment at school. This continued at university, where he studied physical sciences and completed undergraduate and master’s degrees in physical geography. The broad nature of the subjects he took – climatology and meteorology, hydrology, geomorphology (landforms) and biogeography (plants and soil science) – provided a perfect background for a career in rural fire research.
It is not possible to study to be a rural fire scientist in New Zealand. The environmental sciences (forestry, geography) provide the only local pathway to a career in fire science. Grant got into fire research by chance, landing a position in the newly established rural Fire Research Group at Scion soon after he graduated. Grant has been in fire research ever since.
Grant enjoys the mix of field, laboratory and office-based work that his job offers. He enjoys the interaction with fire and land managers as well as other scientists.
What his work involves
Fieldwork involves setting up experiments and collecting data. Laboratory work includes sampling vegetation fuels to quantify fire hazards. Office work involves conducting statistical analyses of collected data, and researching and writing reports, journal papers and newsletters describing the results from research. He also prepares presentations and training materials for fire managers and other fire scientists.
At times, Grant also gets involved in providing assistance to firefighters and managers dealing with large fire incidents in New Zealand or overseas, by providing specialist advice on wildfire behaviour. Fire scientists may also be asked to provide specialist advice, for example, in investigations into the causes of fires or court hearings.
Grant says fire research is an exciting career where you can be part of a small, specialist research team that is making a real difference. They provide knowledge that reduces the risk of large, damaging wildfires, and that makes firefighters and the public safer.
Outside of work, Grant enjoys spending time with his family, tramping, international travel and watching sport.
Scion have a website for all of their rural fire research publications, tools, software and apps. You can also follow them on twitter #blog and check out their blog site so you can follow along on the science as-it-happens.
In this Radio NZ Our Changing World article and podcast from 2020 find out how New Zealand scientists, including Grant, are working to improve the modelling of wildfires, and how Mātauranga Māori can be harnessed to reduce the risk of wildfire.
This article is based on information current in 2009 and updated in 2018.