Dr Andrew Sullivan

Dr Andrew Sullivan: leading bushfire behaviour research.

Dr Andrew Sullivan: insights into the fundamental nature of bushfire

Dr Andrew Sullivan’s research interests are in bushfire behaviour, combustion dynamics, and firefighter safety.

  • 25 January 2011 | Updated 7 March 2014

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Current activities

Dr Andrew Sullivan leads the CSIRO Ecosystem Science's Bushfire Dynamics and Applications Group. The research of this Group covers five key areas: fuel dynamics, fuel availability, fire behaviour, firebrands and spotting and fire management.

Dr Sullivan's research group brings together expertise in:

  • field and
  • laboratory-based experimentation
  • development of models to predict fuel moisture content,fire behaviour and suppression capability
  • devlopment of fire spread simulation software
  • the chemistry and physics of combustion and heat transfer.

The Group is home to two unique experimental apparatus:

  • the CSIRO Pyrotron, a 25-m long combustion wind tunnel designed to study the behaviour of fires burning in bushfire fuels under safe and repeatable conditions; and
  • the CSIRO/Mayne Nickless Vertical Wind Tunnel, a 12-m tall vertical tunnel designed to study the behaviour of burning firebrands falling at their terminal velocity.

Dr Sullivan’s research contributes to a number of CSIRO output domains. These include the Digital Productivity and Services Flagship in the area of disaster management, risk assessement and threat mitigation, the Sustainable Agriculture Flagship and the Climate and Atmosphere Theme in the area of greenhouse gas emissions, combustion chemistry and bushfire behaviour.

Dr Andrew Sullivan leads the CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences’s Bushfire Dynamics and Applications Group. The research of this Group covers five key areas: fuel dynamics, fuel availability, fire behaviour, firebrands and spotting and fire management.

Dr Sullivan’s current research activities include:

  • leading the Bushfire CRC project Fire Development, Transitions and Suppression, the first comprehensive investigation into the lifecycle of growth of fire in dry eucalypt forests covering potential for outbreak, development, and suppression of fires.
  • leading the Victorian Department of Primary Industries project Fire Transitions into Urban Fuel investigation the key drivers that influence the transition of fire burning in the landscape to one burning in urban fuels.
  • development of a theoretical model for the correction of slope effects on rate of spread on lee (negative) slopes.
  • investigation into the greenhouse gas emission profiles of free burning fires in bushfire fuels, in particular the effect of combustion type (heading, flanking, backing) under wildfire conditions has on emissions.
  • investigation into the greenhouse gas emissions of large woody debris under prescribed burning conditions


Dr Sullivan joined CSIRO in 1991. He has a background in physics, computing and modelling, combustion, thermokinetics and fluid dynamicsand has applied these disciplines in the development of models for radiant heat flux from bushfire flames and from burning logs behind a fire front.

Dr Sullivan has undertaken investigations of a number of wildfire events, including the 1994 Sydney fires and the 2009 Black Saturday fires. He has contributed to the development of revised fire spread prediction meters and fire danger meters for grasslands as well as to the study of fires burning under dry summer conditions in dry eucalypt forests and the evaluation of the effectiveness of spray systems fitted to fire tankers.

Dr Sullivan has collaborated with a wide range of individuals and organisations both nationally and internationally. He is currently an Associate Editor for the International Journal of Wildland Fire and in 2013 he was awarded Outstanding Editor for 2012. Dr Sullivan is a member of the International Association of Wildland Fire, the Combustion Institute and the TeX Users Group. Dr Sullivan has frequently been called on by the news media to provide comment on bushfire behaviour and firefighter safety during major fire events.

Academic qualifications

Dr Sullivan has been awarded:

  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Physics and Computing in 1990 from Victoria University of Technology
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Physics in 2008 from the Australian National University.


Dr Sullivan contributed to the coordination of the investigation of the behaviour and spread of a number of 2009 Black Saturday fires, including the Kilmore East fire which killed 121 people.

Dr Sullivan was instrumental in the design and construction of the CSIRO Pyrotron, a large 25-m horizontal combustion wind tunnel that enables the study of the combustion of bushfire fuels and the investigation of the fundamental processes of flame propagation. It was launched by the Federal Minister for Science the Honorable Kim Carr in November 2008 and was completed with full data acquisition capability in 2012.

From 2004 to 2007 Dr Sullivan undertook his PhD at the Department of Theoretical Physics at the ANU under the supervision of Dr Rowena Ball. His thesis (awarded in Dec 2008) studied the dynamics of the competitive thermokinetics involved in the combustion of bushfire fuel and the influence of environmental conditions on the volatilisation and charring pathwards during combustion.

Dr Sullivan worked on Project Vesta from 1997 to 1999, investigating the behaviour of dry eucalypt forest fires under dry summer conditions. This work involved conducting 102 experimental fires in Western Australia over two summers and led to the development of a new model of the prediction of the speed of fires burning in dry eucalypt forests as well as a deepened understanding of the turbulent structure of the wind beneath the forest canopy.

He was also involved in developing, designing and coordinating the production of the CSIRO Grassland Fire Spread Meter, the Fire Spread Meter for Northern Australia and CSIRO-Modified McArthur Mk 4 Grassland Fire Danger Meter. As part of this work he co-authored a book on grassfire behaviour with Phil Cheney.

Learn more about CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences.