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Australia's heat and bushfires are signs of fundamental shifts in its climate

Posted on 20 January 2020 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

Australia’s “worst fire season ever recorded.” That’s how the Australian Broadcasting Company, among many others, aptly described as “an apocalypse,” “the gates of Hell,” or the “nightmare” bushfires that have enveloped much of the southeastern coast of the “land down under.”

It’s not that there haven’t been breath-taking bushfires and heat waves in the past in Australia. There certainly have been. But “the nature of them this year has changed,” experts say in this month’s “This is Not Cool” video by Peter Sinclair for Yale Climate Connections. It’s not just a drought that afflicts Australia nowadays, two experts agree, but a fundamental “shift in the storm track,” with a parching decline in rainfall, particularly during the Southern Hemisphere spring and summer months, becoming the proverbial “new normal.”

It’s the frequency and intensity of those conditions that is so concerning, says University of Melbourne scientist Linden Ashcroft. She says the trends are “exactly in line with what the [climate] science said 10 or 20 years ago.” Broadcast meteorologist Jeff Berardelli points to a single recent day on which the entire enormous continent of Australia recorded a country-wide average temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit. National Center for Atmospheric Research climate scientist Kevin Trenberth says a single month of such high temperatures often can be tolerated without lasting damage, but at two months or longer, as with this year’s bushfire season, serious damages can set in and be long-lasting.



Also see: How climate change influenced Australia’s unprecedented fires

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Comments 1 to 23:

  1. You can't predict climate change from one years events: isn't that what we used to say to be fair?!?

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  2. Erm . . . Bozzza, you've got that back-to-front.  Think about it.

    They're not trying to predict climate change from one year's events.

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  3. "'ve got that back-to-front."

    Indeed he does. The prediction that a warming climate would produce the kind of changes that we are seeing in Australia preceded this year’s events by several decades. Moreover, it’s not just this one year, Australia has been unusually hot and dry for the past several years.

    But you can’t expect climate change deniers to even read…or listen...for comprehension, much less think it through logically.

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  4. There is also the issue of fuel loads. Aboriginal Australians have been very critical of current day forest management and are advocating to bring back mosaic burning like they did for all those thousands of years. It makes sense to have a series of small fires rather than one big one.

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  5. Jim @3 "Moreover, it’s not just this one year, Australia has been unusually hot and dry for the past several years" I think that changed in this last week with much of Eastern Australia getting 1-2 months rain in a day. Wet and Wild theme park was closed due to Errrr too much water.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Borderline sloganeering. Climate is not changed in a month or a year. Trends are what matter. Are you seriously suggesting problem is over?

  6. I try. More warm ocean => more water vapours =>more blocking infrared radiation above Australia and NOT produce more clouds 

    Main: more water vapours NOT produce more clouds

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  7. Some time ago I read a study based on the analysis of Stalactites and Stalacmintes that suggested that there is a 200 year cycle of wet and dry periods in Australia.  Moreover, the wet period is coming to an end and a dry period starting.  Add climate change to this and Aus looks to be in a spot of trouble.  If the past couple of centuries were the wet period what must the dry period look like augmented by climate change.

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  8. PS @5 A week in itself is not significant but what happens in that week can have enormous statistical significance. Could anyone argue the bushfires in the New Years week was not enormously statistically significant?

    Simiarly with the large rainfalls in Eastern Australia the past week. Had these rainfalls occurred 3 weeks earlier and fallen in 2019, these rainfalls would have turned large areas of Easter Australia into having normal rainfall in 2019. 

    The rain events of that week would then have had enormous statistical significance and continued the BOM trend of Australia trending getting wetter over the last 110 years.

    BOM chart showing a Australia getting wetter with more red prior to 1950 and more blue after 1950:-

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Can you provide analysis to show that the rainfall event "would have had enornous statistical significance"? Without it, you are sloganeering again. You might like to look at analysis here but also note that temperature as well as rainfall is very important in bushfire. More relevant for climate and bushfire is probably PdsI which looks at temperature and precipitation.

  9. As this is your first post, Skeptical Science respectfully reminds you to please follow our comments policy. Thank You! Apparently the bush fires in 1973 '74 buned 117 million hectares. So far this year it's been 10 million.

    How can you say that's unprecedented?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please show us the source of figures so readers can ensure that you are comparing like with like. My understanding is that the "unprecedented" claims (this is the link Yale give their article) concern location and fire intensity but clarity from source would be appreciated.

  10. john @9, the 1974 - 1975 bushfire season did burn 117 million hectares, but  almost all of it was grasslands in the outback towards central Australia that had zero economic impact and value. It was waste lands essentially. Nobody even noticed until some satellite data appeared. Refer Bushfires in Australia on wikipedia and read the tables and source material.

    So comparing that season  with now is an apples with oranges comparison. The current bushfires are in forests and around urban areas.

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  11. Solar & wind power can definitely solve half of the problems caused by greenhouse gases emission and resulting in climate change. The second issue that needs to be addressed is adopting energy-efficient techs at the consumer level. The Victorian state government offering free/discounted LED replacement for residential and commercial establishments. I think its a great initiative. Energy efficient systems coupled with the renewable power source is the way forward. 

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  12. John exhibits exactly the kind of uncritical thinking that those seeking to intentionally disseminate climate misinformation and disinformation rely upon. 117 million hectares of dry open grass/scrub savanna simply does not compare with 10 million hectares of dense temperate forest, much of which has never burned before in recorded history.

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  13. PS @9 Yes 1973 1974 was the worst on record and burned 117 million ha. Ref Australia Institute of Disaster Respurces.

    I am surprised it is not common knowledge in Australia, given the number of people claiming 2019 2020 is the worst (egged on by MSM) it is clear it is not common knowledge. I wish people would fact check.

    as a reference, 2019 2020 has burned less than 20 million ha–20_Australian_bushfire_season

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  14. PS @9 if a bushfire is measured by severity rather than hectares, the 1851 Black Thursday fires are hard to beat.

    After Melbourne having a record 47 degrees, 25% of Victoria burnt in one day. a ship 30 km off the coast was under ember attack. One million sheep died.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] The only "unprecedented" claim referenced by this site refers to NSW and the claim is from Rural Fire Service.  " The scale of the bushfires is “unprecedented” for this point in the season, RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford said."

    We like fact-checking; we dont like strawman arguments.

  15. Recommended supplemental reading:

    'It's heart-wrenching': 80% of Blue Mountains and 50% of Gondwana rainforests burn in bushfires by Lisa Cox & Nick Evershed, Environment, Guardian, Jan 16, 2020

    Australia's bushfires to push global emissions to new high: Met Office by Peter Hannam, Environment, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 24, 2020

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  16. John @15 my understanding is that bushfires do not count towards a country's emission commitments, only controlled burns add to the Paris commitment. Hence the reluctance by states to do controlled burns.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] what is your evidence reluctance by states to do back controlled burns? Seems to be contradicted in this factcheck.

    A reminder yet again to back assertions with references.

  17. PS @16. Here is how the Victorian Government has ignored the Black Saturday Royal Commission recommendation of 5% control burned each year up from the then current 2%.

    "In the past three seasons, the number of hectares burned nosedived from 185,000 down to 65,000."

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  18. This was 7 years ago: "Australia adds new colour to temperature maps as heat soars"

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  19. This "new colour" can now be seen more often and longer. We have to act BEFORE all becomes irreversible!

    Globally, 2020 was 1.2°C above pre-industrial.

    Global Temperature Jazz - Paris Climate Accord Into the Twenties

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  20. I mean 2019, not 2020. Sorry.

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  21. "Globally, 2020 was 1.2°C above pre-industrial." Yes, but of course this is just an average. Australia was 1.52 degs c above even the 1960 - 1990 baseline in 2019. Canada was 1.7 degs c above this baseline.

    But I believe these numbers are combined land / ocean data, (?) which would make Australia's land temperatures more than 1.52 degress above the baseline. Obviously this is where people live so its the more relevant number. But I'm not sure of what the 1.52 deg c number is, combined land and oceans, or just land.

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  22. Put it this way I assume Australia's temperatures at 1.52 deg c are land temperatures, but Im not absolutely 100% sure. Do they include the oceans to the extent of their economic zone?

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  23. Is the Australian federal government singing out of the same hymnal as detailed in this article?

    ‘Blatant manipulation’: Trump administration exploited wildfire science to promote logging by Emily Holden & Jimmy Tobias, Environment, Guardian, Jan 24, 2020

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