Impacts

Wildfires Rage Down Under

Koala

In December 2005, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology released a report entitled, “Climate change impacts on fire-weather in south-east Australia”. Stating that, “since 1950, rainfall has decreased in south-east Australia, droughts have become more severe and the number of extremely hot days has risen, ” the report went on to conclude that a region with the reputation of already being one of the three most fire-prone areas of the world would likely see, “combined frequencies of days with very high and extreme [Forest Fire Danger Index] ratings,” rise 4-25% by 2020 and 15-70% by 2050.

This year, while competitors at the Australian Open dealt with record setting heat reaching temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit, wildfires ravaged the scorching and parched southeast region of the continent. Authorities are now estimating that the death toll from these hundreds of wildfires is expected to surpass 200. Wildlife loss is expected to be in the millions.

And while all researchers will agree that no single event can be tied directly to global warming either in its initiation or its severity and duration, the likelihood of a future of similar events for the Australian continent does not look promising. While the southeast region has not seen a considerable rise in maximum temperature over the time period between 1910 and 2000, the minimum temperature has risen significantly.

SE Australia Temperature Trend, 1910-2000Figure 1: SE Australia Temperature Trend, 1910-2000; Source: Australian Government: Bureau of Meteorology


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