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1st January 2020

Science Australia fires: A visual guide to the bushfires and extreme heat

Science Australia fires: A visual guide to the bushfires and extreme heat

Science

Australia is grappling with massive bushfires fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought.

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.

science Two firefighters approach a blaze in New South WalesImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Firefighters in the Blue Mountains National Park near Sydney

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Science What’s the situation in New South Wales?

Hot, dry weather combined with prolonged drought and strong winds have created perfect conditions for fire to spread rapidly.

science Map: Active fires and burnt areas, 31 December

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Around 100 fires 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 difficult conditions for the 2,500 firefighters deployed in the field.

The small town of Balmoral, south-west of Sydney, was largely 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.

In the countryside to the west of Sydney, there are fears that the vast 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 cooler conditions last week to perform ‘back burning’, where small areas are deliberately burned to create breaks to stop or slow the main 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 major roads have been closed major roads have been closed at several times during the last week with emergency-level fires spanning a 500km (310 miles) area across New South Wales and the neighbouring state of Victoria.

science Graphic comparing the extent of 2019 fires in New South Wales (3 million hectares burnt), the 2018 fires in California (1.8 million hectares) and the 2019 Amazon fires in Brazil (900,000 hectares)

science Map showing location of every fire recorded as active in Australia in the seven days up the 31 December

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.

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Science What is 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.

science Satellite image from 31 December showing smoke from fires in eastern Australia

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.

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So 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.

Science 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.

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.

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20th December 2019

Science Australia fires: A visual guide to the bushfires and extreme heat

Science Australia fires: A visual guide to the bushfires and extreme heat

Science

Australia is grappling with massive bushfires fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought.

Fires in New South Wales (NSW) have burned at least 2.7m hectares (7.4m acres) this season, destroying more than 700 houses. Eight people – including two volunteer firefighters whose vehicle was hit by a tree – have died.

science Fires in New South WalesImage copyright
Getty Images

Science What’s the situation in New South Wales?

Hot, dry weather combined with prolonged drought and strong winds have created perfect conditions for fire to spread rapidly.

science Map: Active fires, 19 December

science Presentational white space

Nearly 100 fires are burning across the state, with many uncontained and continuing to threaten lives.

The fires have been exacerbated by 40C temperatures and strong winds in recent days, creating difficult conditions for the 2,500 firefighters deployed in the field. Large fires are burning in the north region between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay.

Further south there are fears that the vast Gosper’s Mountain fire, which originated in the Wollemi National Park, may merge with the Green Wattle Creek blaze in the lower Blue Mountains.

Smoke from these fires has periodically blown south-eastwards to reach Sydney, causing severe air pollution in Australia’s largest city.

science How big are the fires?

science Presentational white space

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.

So 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 1C since 1910, with most of the heating occurring since 1950, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

Hottest day on record

Australia broke its all-time temperature record twice this week. Tuesday’s average maximum of 40.9C was broken a day later by Wednesday’s 41.9C, both beating a 2013 record of 40.3C.

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.

chiefelf

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply:

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