Lasting damages caused by Australian bushfires

Bushfires that occurred late last year till early January have been described as the worst in the country’s recorded history

By AZREEN HANI / Pic By www.bom.gov.au

AUSTRALIA’S bushfires may become longer and more severe in future as a result of climate change, as lasting damage could push some wildlife species to the brink of extinction.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), the weather generally plays a large role in the severity of fires and how quickly they spread, regardless of which types of forests that are burning.

“A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that dust storms, droughts and heat waves will likely worsen in Australia without significant emission reductions, possibly extending the length of the country’s fire season,” the global research organisation said in its recent report.

“Fires and the trees they burn release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, creating a positive feedback loop — more carbon means more extreme weather events, and in many places like Australia, this means more severe fires,” it added.

Australia’s bushfires that occurred late last year till early January have been described as the worst in the country’s recorded history. According to news reports, at least 28 people have died with more than 2,000 homes destroyed.

WRI stated unprecedented dryness, high temperatures and strong winds created a tinderbox, carrying fires over larger distances and engulfing more towns than ever before.

It got worse due to the fact that Australia has experienced rainfall deficits over the past 20 months greater than any other time on record.

The fires could result in A$5 billion (RM14 billion) in direct losses to the Australian economy. According to WRI, based on scientists’ estimates, Australia’s recent fires killed roughly a billion animals, and some species may not be able to recover.

“Fires are moving too fast for dehydrated animals to get out of the way, and they are burning too hot to leave any trees standing in their wake. Many surviving animals have no safe habitat in which to retreat,” it said.

“The lasting damages could be severe and irreparable for some species. We found that about 40% of the fires are burning on legally protected areas like national parks and conservation zones, areas especially important for animals that reside only in Australia’s unique forest ecosystems, such as koalas and brush-tailed rock wallabies,” it explained.

Fires are also burning in and around Australia’s Alliance for Zero Extinction sites, threatening the very existence of entire species like the Wollemi pine tree and the Corroboree frog.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently warned the smoke from the Australian bushfires may travel “full circuit” around the world, before returning to the country.

The smoke that reaches the stratosphere generally stays there for several months, travelling thousands of kilometres from its source, it said.

According to NASA, since the recent outburst of fire clouds, many different satellite sensors have collected images of vast plumes crossing the Pacific.

NASA is currently tracking the movement of smoke from the Australian fires using several sensors, according to Colin Seftor, a scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

“The smoke had a dramatic impact on New Zealand, causing severe air quality issues across the county and visibly darkening mountaintop snow. Beyond New Zealand, the smoke has now travelled more than halfway around the Earth, crossing South America, turning the skies hazy, and causing colourful sunrises and sunsets. It is expected to make at least one full circuit, returning once again to the skies over Australia,” he said.

“The radiative heating from the soot particles within the smoke makes wildfire plumes particularly buoyant, meaning they will reach higher altitudes in the stratosphere and stay there longer than material from a volcanic eruption that reaches the same initial altitude,” said Jean-Paul Vernier, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Aerospace at NASA Langley Research Centre and the lead of a NASA disasters team responding to the fires.