Nick McCarthy conducting field research
Nick McCarthy conducting field research
22 September 2017

Bushfire research using radar meteorology has won a University of Queensland PhD student an international meteorology prize in the United States.

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences student Nicholas McCarthy blazed through a field of more than 90 other students to collect the Spiros G. Geotis Student Prize at the American Meteorological Society Radar Meteorology conference in Chicago.

“It was quite an honour, especially considering the extremely high calibre of other presentations,” Mr McCarthy said.

“The conference brought together about 400 radar meteorologists, but with the focus on cyclones, thunderstorms and rainfall processes, I was the only person presenting on fire.

“Fire and radar is an emerging application of the technology, so it’s amazing to have the work acknowledged by such a technical community.”

Mr McCarthy has been working closely with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology researching convective plumes – the intense columns of heat above bushfires.

“The motivation is to find out how these plumes augment local meteorology, sometimes producing intense thunderstorms above fires,” he said.

“Unlike severe thunderstorms, very little research has gone into using radar to observe how fires and their large convective plumes interact with the atmosphere.”

Mr McCarthy’s research draws on information collected with radar, weather balloons and rapid-deploy weather stations and from firefighting operations.

He uses the UQ XPOL portable meteorological observation platform to make field observations at wildfires.

The XPOL is a 4WD vehicle equipped with a portable Doppler radar, drones, weather balloons, automatic weather stations and other observation equipment.

Mr McCarthy’s research is supervised by climatology Professor Hamish McGowan, Monash University atmospheric scientist Dr Adrien Guyot and Bureau of Meteorology researcher Dr Andrew Dowdy, and has attracted UQ Collaborative Industry Engagement funding. 

His work is supported by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, the Country Fire Authority, the NSW Rural Fire Service, and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

Last year, Mr McCarthy won the Science Business Match Up Challenge with his Breathing Fire: Tracking the Meteorology of Large Bushfires project.

He is now in California on a four-month internship with One Concern, a start-up that uses artificial Intelligence to predict natural disasters.

See a time-lapse video of a fire-initiated thunderstorm captured by Mr McCarthy, and follow his research and field observations on Twitter at @mccarthy_nfm.

Media: Nick McCarthy,, +1 415 966 6366.