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Climate climate change extremes in australia  destruction | Upload Man-Made

Climate Change Extremes In Australia: Destruction

by: Sharai Hoekema
climate change extremes in australia  destruction | Upload

Fires and floods: Australia already seesaws between climate extremes, and there's more to come. With climate change, Australia is predicted to face more extreme weather.

Climate Extremes Australia: Unprecedented

'Unprecedented' is the word that keeps being tied to the apocalyptic weather Australia has faced over the past few months.
Bushfires have always been a reality in Australia, but never recorded on this scale with such widespread damage. It’s estimated that more than 60,000 sq km have been scorched in New South Wales and Victoria alone. Days of smoke have shrouded Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne. And after the fires, flooding at the weekend in NSW and parts of Queensland left thousands without power, and dozens of schools closed on Monday.

While the country is still grappling with the economic reality and human devastation caused by the fires, it’s easy to think the worst of this disaster is over. But unfortunately, other extreme weather may yet occur this summer, and these will also require safety preparations and rapid responses. Residents in NSW evacuated already from flooded areas and thousands left without power.

houses, flood, water, trees

Climate Extremes: Continental floods

The last year 2019, was the driest and hottest year on record in Australia. Some parts of the country have had several years of drought in a row. But all droughts end eventually. At the weekend, devastating storms swept through eastern NSW, causing flooding, power outages, and commuter chaos. The Bureau of Meteorology says 391.6mm of rain fell over Sydney in the past four days, the most since 414.2mm fell from 2 to 5 February 1990.

Historically Australian continental-scale droughts are often broken by widespread heavy rain, leading to an increased risk of flooding, including potentially lethal flash floods. The bare soil exacerbates the flood risk from the heavy rains and lack of vegetation caused by the drought and by bushfires that destroy forests and grassland. When a decade-long drought ended in 2009, what followed were two extremely wet years with severe flooding. Flooding also brings the risk that ash might contaminate water supplies. The heavy rain falling on bare soil can also lead to severe erosion.


Buildings, erosion, swimming pool, sea
Damage at Collaroy at Sydney's northern beaches

Heavy Rain: Positive and Negative Effects

By the heavy rain, all fires in the state may be out by the end of the week (16th of February 2020). Evacuation orders are in place for several areas around Sydney, with thousands of homes still without power after Sunday’s rainfall.

people, Warragamba Dam, water

  • The Warragamba Dam recouped a year’s worth of water in one weekend, rising 17.7 percentage points to sit at 60.7% at 10.30 am on Monday, AAP reports. Some 360,000 megalitres of water flowed into the dam, almost as much as 150,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
  • Greater Sydney dam levels were at 64.2% on Monday morning, up from 41.9% in seven days.
  • The ash and debris generated by recent bushfires around the Warragamba area will not affect water quality, and two silt curtains are in place to intercept ash run-off, WaterNSW said
  • Prospect Dam is more than 90% full, and Woronora Dam in Sydney’s south is almost 60% complete, jumping 25 percentage points.

Up to 25 meters of beach at Collaroy and Narrabeen has been swept away by huge waves generated by the east coast low. While properties along the beach have been spared severe damage today, the threat is expected to return in the coming days when more storms are forecast.

Ausgrid crews are continuing to deal with 3,100 hazards, including fallen powerlines, fallen trees, damaged wires, and extensive flash flooding. The company has restored power to 61,000 customers and is continuing efforts to reconnect 79,000 still without power.

Climate Extremes Australia: Tropical Cyclones

The onset of the tropical wet season over northern Australia has been very much delayed, as predicted in the middle of last year by the Bureau of Meteorology. Most of the Australian tropics have had well below-average rainfall in the past few months, and some areas had their lowest November-January rain. As well, the tropical cyclone season was late, also predicted by the bureau months ago. In recent weeks there has been some cyclone activity and some rain. But the wait is still on for widespread tropical storms and for more cyclones to cross the coast as Damien did at the weekend. Although rain brought by cyclones are often welcome, these systems can also leave severe damage.

Sydney Opera house, boat, water, cloud

Destruction: Southern Australian Heatwaves

We are at the riskiest time for heatwaves in southern Australia. The risk usually peaks around the middle to the end of summer. Weather conducive to increased bushfire risk also usually peaks in February for southern states. So although media, community, and political attention have focused on the horrendous bushfires we have already suffered, we should not overlook the likelihood of other extreme weather, including cyclones, floods, and heatwaves, or think that the bushfire risk is over for the year. It is essential to remain vigilant for all weather extremes.

House, remains, woman, red shirt

It would probably be an understatement to say that Australia and Brazil did not have their best year in 2019 in their existence. World leaders are tripping over each other to offer their assistance to Australia and the troubled Brazilian government, who are still struggling to get a grip on the problem. Meanwhile, hectares and hectares of forestland are catching fire with each passing minute. 

Climate Change Extremes: Australia, America, Africa, The Artic, Siberia

While the Amazon is grabbing headlines with these historically fierce and ferocious fires, it is not the only part of our world that is on fire. Central Africa is facing some of the worst wildfires in its history as well, standing by more or less helplessly as vast areas of savanna are ablaze. And just before those started, we were confronted with the startling headline that the Arctic is on fire: with Siberia, a place usually associated with icey cold tundras, now in danger of being burned to the ground. And what about Australia? Its bushfires threaten thousand of people, nature, cities, animals like Koalas.

Recommended: Heatwaves Worldwide: Nothing New! How To Protect Your Self

woman, kangaroo

The one thing that stands out here is that wildfires are becoming much more severe - and occurring in places where there was previously unheard of. Many are exclaiming that this inevitably means that the world is ‘on fire,’ and climate change is shifting to a higher gear. While this does make for some interest-grabbing headlines, it surely would be too easy to say that climate change has caused these fires. Or wouldn’t it be?

What we can safely do is turn the matter around. We do know for a fact that wildfires are active contributors to climate change. They kill millions of trees and vegetation, which function as the lungs of the earth. With fewer trees and plants, the earth cannot remove as many harmful emissions from the air - while a wildfire is pretty much the equivalent of a cigarette, releasing a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Think of it as smoking one pack of cigarettes per day at a time when your lung function is decreasing rapidly as the result of lung disease of sorts.

Extremes Globally: What On Earth Is Going On?

Wildfires Globally. What are the different types of wildfires? There are three basic types of forest fires:
  • Crown fires burn trees up their entire length to the top.
  • Surface fires burn only surface litter and duff.
  • Ground fires (sometimes called underground or subsurface fires) occur in deep accumulations of humus, peat and similar dead vegetation that become dry enough to burn.

The numbers are - staggering. Take Siberia, where some six million acres have been burned to a crisp. Or Alaska, another part of the Arctic, which has already lost 2.5 million acres to wildfires. This is a massive loss for the Arctic region, which is already suffering disproportionally from global warming, warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Potentially catastrophic, especially as this will lead to an increase in lightning - a leading cause for the fire.

Recommended: Climate Change Causes Nature To Change: The World Affected

Here, it seems as if we are entering some sort of vicious circle. As the world gets warmer, wildfires will become more prevalent. And as there are more wildfires, it will leave us with less vegetation and higher carbon emissions. This will only serve to speed up global warming, mainly if those wildfires occur in regions - like the Amazon or Arctic - that are powerful catalysts for our climate system. 

Complicating matters even further is the unpredictability and variety of wildfires: there is no easy way to categorize them, nor is there a single root cause that can be identified that causes those fires. Some fires may be set intentionally, to obtain land for agricultural purposes. In contrast, others are accidental or perhaps more directly linked to global warming, as in the example of the Arctic.

Graph with fires in the world

Wildfires Globally: Australia. First Impression

In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns, irreplaceable forests and endangered and precious animal species such as the koala.



                                 Deaths, losses mounting in Australia's disastrous bush fires, 1 of January 2020
                                             Wildfires Globally: Australia, America, Africa, The Artic, Siberia

What are the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events?

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the great wonders of this planet. Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.

Wildfires Globally. How does a wildfire form?
Sometimes, fires occur naturally, ignited by heat from the sun or a lightning strike. However, the majority of wildfires are the result of human carelessness. Causes include arson, campfires, discarding lit cigarettes, not burning debris properly, playing with matches or fireworks.

The Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It, too, is now threatened by climate change.

Red helicopetr flying above bushfires

Wildfires Globally: Australia

Gone are the vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead, there are now smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background. A brown haze replaced the iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from ‘terpenes’ emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here). The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze.
Locals would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words ‘climate change’ without any prompting.

Wildfires Globally. Does fire reproduce?
Fire is a self-sustaining chemical reaction where heat produces flammable gases, which burn and produce more heat. So to answer your question, 'Can fire reproduce?', reproduction is a process by which living creatures perpetuate their species. Fire is not a living thing and therefore does not reproduce

The brown skies observed now in the Blue Mountains are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with an unprecedented drought in already dry regions, and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

Wildfires: Australia, New South Wales

In the worst-affected state, New South Wales, fires have burned more than 4 million hectares (9.9m acres), destroying more than 900 houses. Across the country, 12 people have died - including three volunteer firefighters - with most of the casualties in New South Wales.

Wildfires. Current Situation NSW

Hot, dry weather combined with prolonged drought and strong winds have created perfect conditions for a fire to spread rapidly. Around 100 wildfires are burning across the state, with up to half as yet uncontained by firefighters and continuing to threaten lives. The fires have been exacerbated by 40C temperatures and strong winds, creating severe conditions for the 2,500 firefighters deployed in the field.

Bushfires North South Wales
Wildfires Globally: Australia. Source: New South Wales Rural Fire Service. 31-12-2019

The small town of Balmoral, south-west of Sydney, was mostly destroyed, and scores of homes were razed amid catastrophic conditions on 22 December. In northern NSW, large fires are burning in the region between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay.

Australia bush fires VW beetle on fire Balmoral
Wildfires Globally: Australia, Balmoral: A VW Beetle on fire

In the countryside to the west of Sydney, there are fears that the huge Gospers Mountain fire, which originated in the Wollemi National Park, may merge with the Green Wattle Creek blaze in the lower Blue Mountains. The fire in the Blue Mountains, a world heritage area and popular tourist destination, has burnt over 64,000 hectares, though much of it is now being controlled, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service. Fire crews in the region took advantage of colder conditions last week to perform 'back burning,' where small areas are deliberately burned to create breaks to stop or slow the primary fire.

Smoke from bushfires has periodically blown south-eastwards to reach Sydney, causing severe air pollution in Australia's largest city. Further south of Sydney significant roads have been closed several times during the last week with emergency-level fires spanning a 500km (310 miles) area across New South Wales and the neighboring state of Victoria.

An Australian farmer was forced to shoot 20 of his cows after they were severely injured in the bushfires ravaging the coastal areas of southern New South Wales. Steve Shipton from Coolagolite, between the hard-hit towns of Cobargo and Bermagui, was consoled by neighboring farmers after the heart-wrenching task of putting down the cattle, which had been severely burnt by fires that swept through his property.

man, gun, cow, dead

Size of the bush-fires in South East Wales
Wildfires Globally: Australia. Source: New South Wales Rural Fire Service. 

To put the fire damage in New South Wales in perspective, 1.8 million hectares burned in the 2018 California wildfires, and some 900,000 hectares were lost in the 2019 Amazon fires. Flames up to 70m (230ft) in height have been reported.

Bush-fires last week of 2019 Australia, NSW

Wildfires Globally: Australia. The Situation In Other States?

In Victoria, the state's Country Fire Authority issued emergency warnings across the region of East Gippsland, telling 30,000 people to leave the area before roads became too dangerous. Fires have been burning in the area since late November, but the latest warnings for East Gippsland are of bushfire-driven thunderstorms, which would increase the risk of the fires spreading further out of control.
In the small town of Mallacoota, residents fled to the beach following a warning siren, with only a change in the wind direction keeping the fire from reaching them on the shore.

In the state of South Australia, the Cudlee Creek fire is reported to have destroyed more than 80 homes in the Adelaide Hills region. The fires are also thought to have destroyed up to a third of the vines that provide grapes for the Adelaide Hills wine industry.

Climate Change Extremes In Australia: Are Bushfires Getting Worse?

Many Australians are asking that very question and whether these fires are linked to climate change - but the science is complicated. Scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires becoming more frequent and more intense.

Australia's wordt fires
Australia's wordt fires

Australia's deadliest bushfire disaster was 'Black Saturday' in February 2009, when some 180 people died in Victoria. Data shows that Australia has warmed overall by slightly more than one degree Celsius since 1910, with most of the heating occurring since 1950, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

Australia is getting warmer.

Australia is getting warmer

Extremes In Australia: Hottest Day On Record

Australia broke its all-time temperature record twice in December. An average maximum of 40.9C was recorded on 17 December, broken a day later by 41.9C, both beating 2013's record of 40.3C. By the end of the month, every state had measured temperatures above 40C - including Tasmania.

Maximum temperature Australia 29 December 2019
Wildfires Globally: Australia. Maximum temperature 29 December 2019

The main climate driver behind the heat has been a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) - an event where sea surface temperatures are warmer in the western half of the ocean, cooler in the east. The difference between the two temperatures is currently the strongest in 60 years.

Wildfires Globally. Are wildfires good?
Wildfires, when allowed to burn in areas where they do not impact human development, are regenerative for the forest, revitalizing for the watershed, renew the soil, and reset the clock for the ecosystem. As a researcher on wildfire and streams let me recount the many ways that natural wildfire is beneficial.

Destruction In The Amazon And Indonesia: Intentionally Set Fires

The Amazon, though, is a perfect example of a wildfire that was set intentionally. Brazil is looking to expand its presence on the economic world stage, for instance, through its growing export of soybeans and cattle. These agricultural products require more land, which can, in the Brazilians’ minds, easily be obtained by ‘borrowing’ it from the rainforest.

Recommended: Brazil Is Burning For Your Beef: Amazon’s Nature, Our Luxury

New president Jair Bolsonaro is more focused on the economic gains and is, in doing so, rolling back all kinds of measures that were put in place to protect both the environment as well as the indigenous groups living in the forest. All of this has undoubtedly added to fears of further deforestation, and while numbers of the exact amount of forest that has gone to waste are not yet available, concerns are that it will only get worse in years to come.

Fire fighters forest Indonesia
Firefighters at a palm oil plantation in Pekanbaru, Indonesia

Southeast Asia is looking at a similar issue. Under pressure to live up to rising demand, more and more agricultural land is ‘forged’ in countries like Sumatra, Borneo, and Malaysia. Up to 71% of so-called peat forests have gone to waste in the past three decades, making room for farms producing palm oil. This hazardous practice does not only significantly add to global warming, as peat releases some of the most damaging and polluting gases, it also poses a significant risk to those living around it. Although the government has attempted to call a halt to this trend, it has not had much of an effect yet: as wildfires are back in full force this year.

Recommended: Amazon’s Fires, Madonna And DiCaprio: Questions & Answers

Wildfires Worldwide: The Arctic

An area that is new to wildfires in the Arctic, including Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. These areas have not dealt with the issue previously. Still, they are facing the worst effects of global warming thus far - with temperatures rising to record heights and plants and vegetation becoming drier than they have ever been. Combined with the increased likelihood of lightning, it is kind of like throwing a lighted match into a stack of hay. 
In total, 180 megatons of carbon dioxide have been emitted as a result of the Arctic wildfires. This massive number is a multiple of the amount as issued by entire countries. This is substantially speeding up global warming, the very same thing causing the Arctic to suffer so badly from wildfires and melting glaciers.

Wildfires Globally. Why don't trees burn in fires?
Trees in fire-prone areas develop thicker bark, in part, because thick bark does not catch fire or burn easily. The species also drops lower branches as the trees grow older, which helps prevent fire from climbing up and burning the green needles higher up the tree.

Indigenous leaders call for Arctic cooperation against wildfires
Indigenous leaders call for Arctic cooperation against wildfires.

Extremes In California And Africa: The Seasonal Cycle Of Burning

One other category of wildfires is those that are expected and - one could say - even needed. The western part of the United States and Africa, to mention just a few, have a seasonal cycle of fires that actually ‘replenish’ the landscape. Take the lodgepole pines, for instance, a staple tree that requires the wildfire heat to release its seeds. In Sub-Saharan Africa, savanna ecosystems are used to their periodical ‘burn’ and will flourish once again not long after the fires have passed.

California wildfire car
Wildfires Globally: America, California

This does, however, not mean that we should stand by and idly watch those wildfires destroy large pieces of land. Often, the root cause will be accidental - like someone dropping a cigarette or a campfire gone wrong. This still sets in motion an event that is potentially dangerous and disastrous to the surrounding area, and that is bound to become even more so in years to come as the direct result of climate change. Research has shown that the Californian wildfires are a staggering 500 percent larger than they would have been without it. They are unnecessarily massive, so to speak, endangering both human and animal lives in the process.

Wildfires Globally. What plants grow after a fire? Fire-activated Seeds
Perhaps the most amazing fire adaptation is that some species actually require fire for their seeds to sprout. Some plants, such as the lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus, and Banksia, have serotinous cones or fruits that are completely sealed with resin.

Climate Change Extremes: This World Is On Fire

Trees on fire

While it may feel and look as if our world is quite literally on fire, one should always consider the root cause first. And while some of those huge wildfires that have been raging in the past months have other reasons, there are a few that can already be traced back to global warming directly - and all of them can, without a doubt, be considered a significant contributor.

Funny how it works: global warming-induced wildfires ending up accelerating that very same phenomenon. However, one might wonder if ‘funny’ really is the most appropriate word.

Cover photo: Five Australian children were reunited with their parents after their grandparents helped them dramatically escape from blazing bush fires by clinging to a wooden jetty for three hours. Grandfather Tim Holmes, alongside his wife and his daughter's five children, had to shelter in the sea to survive the potentially deadly inferno that raged on the shore.

Recommended: Climate Change And Its Effects Like Droughts: The Heat Is On

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Climate Change Extremes In Australia: Destruction

Fires and floods: Australia already seesaws between climate extremes, and there's more to come. With climate change, Australia is predicted to face more extreme weather. Climate Extremes Australia: Unprecedented 'Unprecedented' is the word that keeps being tied to the apocalyptic weather Australia has faced over the past few months. Bushfires have always been a reality in Australia, but never recorded on this scale with such widespread damage. It’s estimated that more than 60,000 sq km have been scorched in New South Wales and Victoria alone. Days of smoke have shrouded Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne. And after the fires, flooding at the weekend in NSW and parts of Queensland left thousands without power, and dozens of schools closed on Monday. While the country is still grappling with the economic reality and human devastation caused by the fires, it’s easy to think the worst of this disaster is over. But unfortunately, other extreme weather may yet occur this summer, and these will also require safety preparations and rapid responses. Residents in NSW evacuated already from flooded areas and thousands left without power. Climate Extremes: Continental floods The last year 2019, was the driest and hottest year on record in Australia. Some parts of the country have had several years of drought in a row. But all droughts end eventually. At the weekend, devastating storms swept through eastern NSW, causing flooding, power outages, and commuter chaos. The Bureau of Meteorology says 391.6mm of rain fell over Sydney in the past four days, the most since 414.2mm fell from 2 to 5 February 1990. Historically Australian continental-scale droughts are often broken by widespread heavy rain, leading to an increased risk of flooding, including potentially lethal flash floods. The bare soil exacerbates the flood risk from the heavy rains and lack of vegetation caused by the drought and by bushfires that destroy forests and grassland. When a decade-long drought ended in 2009, what followed were two extremely wet years with severe flooding. Flooding also brings the risk that ash might contaminate water supplies. The heavy rain falling on bare soil can also lead to severe erosion. Damage at Collaroy at Sydney's northern beaches Heavy Rain: Positive and Negative Effects By the heavy rain, all fires in the state may be out by the end of the week (16 th of February 2020). Evacuation orders are in place for several areas around Sydney, with thousands of homes still without power after Sunday’s rainfall. The Warragamba Dam recouped a year’s worth of water in one weekend, rising 17.7 percentage points to sit at 60.7% at 10.30 am on Monday, AAP reports. Some 360,000 megalitres of water flowed into the dam, almost as much as 150,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Greater Sydney dam levels were at 64.2% on Monday morning, up from 41.9% in seven days. The ash and debris generated by recent bushfires around the Warragamba area will not affect water quality, and two silt curtains are in place to intercept ash run-off, WaterNSW said Prospect Dam is more than 90% full, and Woronora Dam in Sydney’s south is almost 60% complete, jumping 25 percentage points. Up to 25 meters of beach at Collaroy and Narrabeen has been swept away by huge waves generated by the east coast low. While properties along the beach have been spared severe damage today, the threat is expected to return in the coming days when more storms are forecast. Ausgrid crews are continuing to deal with 3,100 hazards, including fallen powerlines, fallen trees, damaged wires, and extensive flash flooding. The company has restored power to 61,000 customers and is continuing efforts to reconnect 79,000 still without power. Climate Extremes Australia: Tropical Cyclones The onset of the tropical wet season over northern Australia has been very much delayed, as predicted in the middle of last year by the Bureau of Meteorology. Most of the Australian tropics have had well below-average rainfall in the past few months, and some areas had their lowest November-January rain. As well, the tropical cyclone season was late, also predicted by the bureau months ago. In recent weeks there has been some cyclone activity and some rain. But the wait is still on for widespread tropical storms and for more cyclones to cross the coast as Damien did at the weekend. Although rain brought by cyclones are often welcome, these systems can also leave severe damage. Destruction: Southern Australian Heatwaves We are at the riskiest time for heatwaves in southern Australia. The risk usually peaks around the middle to the end of summer. Weather conducive to increased bushfire risk also usually peaks in February for southern states. So although media, community, and political attention have focused on the horrendous bushfires we have already suffered, we should not overlook the likelihood of other extreme weather, including cyclones, floods, and heatwaves, or think that the bushfire risk is over for the year. It is essential to remain vigilant for all weather extremes. It would probably be an understatement to say that Australia and Brazil did not have their best year in 2019 in their existence. World leaders are tripping over each other to offer their assistance to Australia and the troubled Brazilian government, who are still struggling to get a grip on the problem. Meanwhile, hectares and hectares of forestland are catching fire with each passing minute.   Climate Change Extremes: Australia, America, Africa, The Artic, Siberia While the Amazon is grabbing headlines with these historically fierce and ferocious fires, it is not the only part of our world that is on fire. Central Africa is facing some of the worst wildfires in its history as well, standing by more or less helplessly as vast areas of savanna are ablaze. And just before those started, we were confronted with the startling headline that the Arctic is on fire: with Siberia, a place usually associated with icey cold tundras, now in danger of being burned to the ground. And what about Australia? Its bushfires threaten thousand of people, nature, cities, animals like Koalas. Recommended:  Heatwaves Worldwide: Nothing New! How To Protect Your Self The one thing that stands out here is that wildfires are becoming much more severe - and occurring in places where there was previously unheard of. Many are exclaiming that this inevitably means that the world is ‘on fire,’ and climate change is shifting to a higher gear. While this does make for some interest-grabbing headlines, it surely would be too easy to say that climate change has caused these fires. Or wouldn’t it be? What we can safely do is turn the matter around. We do know for a fact that wildfires are active contributors to climate change. They kill millions of trees and vegetation, which function as the lungs of the earth. With fewer trees and plants, the earth cannot remove as many harmful emissions from the air - while a wildfire is pretty much the equivalent of a cigarette, releasing a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Think of it as smoking one pack of cigarettes per day at a time when your lung function is decreasing rapidly as the result of lung disease of sorts. Extremes Globally: What On Earth Is Going On? Wildfires Globally. What are the different types of wildfires? There are three basic types of forest fires: Crown fires burn trees up their entire length to the top. Surface fires burn only surface litter and duff. Ground fires (sometimes called underground or subsurface fires) occur in deep accumulations of humus, peat and similar dead vegetation that become dry enough to burn. The numbers are - staggering. Take Siberia, where some six million acres have been burned to a crisp. Or Alaska, another part of the Arctic, which has already lost 2.5 million acres to wildfires. This is a massive loss for the Arctic region, which is already suffering disproportionally from global warming, warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Potentially catastrophic, especially as this will lead to an increase in lightning - a leading cause for the fire. Recommended:  Climate Change Causes Nature To Change: The World Affected Here, it seems as if we are entering some sort of vicious circle. As the world gets warmer, wildfires will become more prevalent. And as there are more wildfires, it will leave us with less vegetation and higher carbon emissions. This will only serve to speed up global warming, mainly if those wildfires occur in regions - like the Amazon or Arctic - that are powerful catalysts for our climate system.   Complicating matters even further is the unpredictability and variety of wildfires: there is no easy way to categorize them, nor is there a single root cause that can be identified that causes those fires. Some fires may be set intentionally, to obtain land for agricultural purposes. In contrast, others are accidental or perhaps more directly linked to global warming, as in the example of the Arctic. Wildfires Globally: Australia. First Impression In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns, irreplaceable forests and endangered and precious animal species such as the koala. {youtube}                                  Deaths, losses mounting in Australia's disastrous bush fires, 1 of January 2020                                              Wildfires Globally: Australia, America, Africa, The Artic, Siberia What are the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events? The Great Barrier Reef, one of the great wonders of this planet. Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions. Wildfires Globally. How does a wildfire form? Sometimes, fires occur naturally, ignited by heat from the sun or a lightning strike. However, the majority of wildfires are the result of human carelessness. Causes include arson, campfires, discarding lit cigarettes, not burning debris properly, playing with matches or fireworks. The Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It, too, is now threatened by climate change. Wildfires Globally: Australia Gone are the vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead, there are now smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background. A brown haze replaced the iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from ‘terpenes’ emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here). The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze. Locals would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words ‘climate change’ without any prompting. Wildfires Globally. Does fire reproduce? Fire is a self-sustaining chemical reaction where heat produces flammable gases, which burn and produce more heat. So to answer your question, 'Can fire reproduce?', reproduction is a process by which living creatures perpetuate their species. Fire is not a living thing and therefore does not reproduce The brown skies observed now in the Blue Mountains are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with an unprecedented drought in already dry regions, and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated. Wildfires: Australia, New South Wales In the worst-affected state, New South Wales, fires have burned more than 4 million hectares (9.9m acres), destroying more than 900 houses. Across the country, 12 people have died - including three volunteer firefighters - with most of the casualties in New South Wales. Wildfires. Current Situation NSW Hot, dry weather combined with prolonged drought and strong winds have created perfect conditions for a fire to spread rapidly. Around 100 wildfires are burning across the state, with up to half as yet uncontained by firefighters and continuing to threaten lives. The fires have been exacerbated by 40C temperatures and strong winds, creating severe conditions for the 2,500 firefighters deployed in the field. Wildfires Globally: Australia. Source: New South Wales Rural Fire Service. 31-12-2019 The small town of Balmoral, south-west of Sydney, was mostly destroyed, and scores of homes were razed amid catastrophic conditions on 22 December. In northern NSW, large fires are burning in the region between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay. Wildfires Globally: Australia, Balmoral: A VW Beetle on fire In the countryside to the west of Sydney, there are fears that the huge Gospers Mountain fire, which originated in the Wollemi National Park, may merge with the Green Wattle Creek blaze in the lower Blue Mountains. The fire in the Blue Mountains, a world heritage area and popular tourist destination, has burnt over 64,000 hectares, though much of it is now being controlled, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service. Fire crews in the region took advantage of colder conditions last week to perform 'back burning,' where small areas are deliberately burned to create breaks to stop or slow the primary fire. Smoke from bushfires has periodically blown south-eastwards to reach Sydney, causing severe air pollution in Australia's largest city. Further south of Sydney significant roads have been closed several times during the last week with emergency-level fires spanning a 500km (310 miles) area across New South Wales and the neighboring state of Victoria. An Australian farmer was forced to shoot 20 of his cows after they were severely injured in the bushfires ravaging the coastal areas of southern New South Wales. Steve Shipton from Coolagolite, between the hard-hit towns of Cobargo and Bermagui, was consoled by neighboring farmers after the heart-wrenching task of putting down the cattle, which had been severely burnt by fires that swept through his property. Wildfires Globally: Australia. Source: New South Wales Rural Fire Service.  To put the fire damage in New South Wales in perspective, 1.8 million hectares burned in the 2018 California wildfires, and some 900,000 hectares were lost in the 2019 Amazon fires. Flames up to 70m (230ft) in height have been reported. Wildfires Globally: Australia. The Situation In Other States? In Victoria, the state's Country Fire Authority issued emergency warnings across the region of East Gippsland, telling 30,000 people to leave the area before roads became too dangerous. Fires have been burning in the area since late November, but the latest warnings for East Gippsland are of bushfire-driven thunderstorms, which would increase the risk of the fires spreading further out of control. In the small town of Mallacoota, residents fled to the beach following a warning siren, with only a change in the wind direction keeping the fire from reaching them on the shore. In the state of South Australia, the Cudlee Creek fire is reported to have destroyed more than 80 homes in the Adelaide Hills region. The fires are also thought to have destroyed up to a third of the vines that provide grapes for the Adelaide Hills wine industry. Climate Change Extremes In Australia: Are Bushfires Getting Worse? Many Australians are asking that very question and whether these fires are linked to climate change - but the science is complicated. Scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires becoming more frequent and more intense. Australia's deadliest bushfire disaster was 'Black Saturday' in February 2009, when some 180 people died in Victoria. Data shows that Australia has warmed overall by slightly more than one degree Celsius since 1910, with most of the heating occurring since 1950, the Bureau of Meteorology says. Australia is getting warmer. Extremes In Australia: Hottest Day On Record Australia broke its all-time temperature record twice in December. An average maximum of 40.9C was recorded on 17 December, broken a day later by 41.9C, both beating 2013's record of 40.3C. By the end of the month, every state had measured temperatures above 40C - including Tasmania. Wildfires Globally: Australia. Maximum temperature 29 December 2019 The main climate driver behind the heat has been a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) - an event where sea surface temperatures are warmer in the western half of the ocean, cooler in the east. The difference between the two temperatures is currently the strongest in 60 years. Wildfires Globally. Are wildfires good? Wildfires, when allowed to burn in areas where they do not impact human development, are regenerative for the forest, revitalizing for the watershed, renew the soil, and reset the clock for the ecosystem. As a researcher on wildfire and streams let me recount the many ways that natural wildfire is beneficial. Destruction In The Amazon And Indonesia: Intentionally Set Fires The Amazon, though, is a perfect example of a wildfire that was set intentionally. Brazil is looking to expand its presence on the economic world stage, for instance, through its growing export of soybeans and cattle. These agricultural products require more land, which can, in the Brazilians’ minds, easily be obtained by ‘borrowing’ it from the rainforest. Recommended:  Brazil Is Burning For Your Beef: Amazon’s Nature, Our Luxury New president Jair Bolsonaro is more focused on the economic gains and is, in doing so, rolling back all kinds of measures that were put in place to protect both the environment as well as the indigenous groups living in the forest. All of this has undoubtedly added to fears of further deforestation, and while numbers of the exact amount of forest that has gone to waste are not yet available, concerns are that it will only get worse in years to come. Firefighters at a palm oil plantation in Pekanbaru, Indonesia Southeast Asia is looking at a similar issue. Under pressure to live up to rising demand, more and more agricultural land is ‘forged’ in countries like Sumatra, Borneo, and Malaysia. Up to 71% of so-called peat forests have gone to waste in the past three decades, making room for farms producing palm oil. This hazardous practice does not only significantly add to global warming, as peat releases some of the most damaging and polluting gases, it also poses a significant risk to those living around it. Although the government has attempted to call a halt to this trend, it has not had much of an effect yet: as wildfires are back in full force this year. Recommended:  Amazon’s Fires, Madonna And DiCaprio: Questions & Answers Wildfires Worldwide: The Arctic An area that is new to wildfires in the Arctic, including Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. These areas have not dealt with the issue previously. Still, they are facing the worst effects of global warming thus far - with temperatures rising to record heights and plants and vegetation becoming drier than they have ever been. Combined with the increased likelihood of lightning, it is kind of like throwing a lighted match into a stack of hay.   In total, 180 megatons of carbon dioxide have been emitted as a result of the Arctic wildfires. This massive number is a multiple of the amount as issued by entire countries. This is substantially speeding up global warming, the very same thing causing the Arctic to suffer so badly from wildfires and melting glaciers. Wildfires Globally. Why don't trees burn in fires? Trees in fire-prone areas develop thicker bark, in part, because thick bark does not catch fire or burn easily. The species also drops lower branches as the trees grow older, which helps prevent fire from climbing up and burning the green needles higher up the tree. Indigenous leaders call for Arctic cooperation against wildfires. Extremes In California And Africa: The Seasonal Cycle Of Burning One other category of wildfires is those that are expected and - one could say - even needed. The western part of the United States and Africa, to mention just a few, have a seasonal cycle of fires that actually ‘replenish’ the landscape. Take the lodgepole pines, for instance, a staple tree that requires the wildfire heat to release its seeds. In Sub-Saharan Africa, savanna ecosystems are used to their periodical ‘burn’ and will flourish once again not long after the fires have passed. Wildfires Globally: America, California This does, however, not mean that we should stand by and idly watch those wildfires destroy large pieces of land. Often, the root cause will be accidental - like someone dropping a cigarette or a campfire gone wrong. This still sets in motion an event that is potentially dangerous and disastrous to the surrounding area, and that is bound to become even more so in years to come as the direct result of climate change. Research has shown that the Californian wildfires are a staggering 500 percent larger than they would have been without it. They are unnecessarily massive, so to speak, endangering both human and animal lives in the process. Wildfires Globally. What plants grow after a fire? Fire-activated Seeds Perhaps the most amazing fire adaptation is that some species actually require fire for their seeds to sprout. Some plants, such as the lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus, and Banksia, have serotinous cones or fruits that are completely sealed with resin. Climate Change Extremes: This World Is On Fire While it may feel and look as if our world is quite literally on fire, one should always consider the root cause first. And while some of those huge wildfires that have been raging in the past months have other reasons, there are a few that can already be traced back to global warming directly - and all of them can, without a doubt, be considered a significant contributor. Funny how it works: global warming-induced wildfires ending up accelerating that very same phenomenon. However, one might wonder if ‘funny’ really is the most appropriate word. Cover photo: Five Australian children were reunited with their parents after their grandparents helped them dramatically escape from blazing bush fires by clinging to a wooden jetty for three hours. Grandfather Tim Holmes, alongside his wife and his daughter's five children, had to shelter in the sea to survive the potentially deadly inferno that raged on the shore. Recommended:  Climate Change And Its Effects Like Droughts: The Heat Is On Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about climate change? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage.'
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