Australia’s Black Summer Fire


Firefighters trying to control fire

Introduction

Australia’s 2019-20 Summer Bushfire which is also known as Black Summer has ended on 31st March 2020. According to some meteorologists the below average rainfall, low relative humidity and the strong winds had caused the forest to burn. Although Australia has suffered several bushfires, this season has been one of the worst.


The Aftermath

Bushfires in Australia are a widespread and regular occurrence which have affected the nature of the continent over millions of years. The 2019-20 bushfire has been one of the worst in history. As of 9th March 2020, the fire burnt over 18.6 million hectares of land, an estimated 1 billion species have been killed and some endangered species may be driven to extinction. Apart from this 34 people have died and 5,900 buildings have been destroyed. The world’s terrestrial biodiversity is concentrated in the forest which includes different species of animals, plants and insects. So, when the forest burns, the biodiversity on which humans depend are also affected.


According to NASA the bushfire has pumped 350 million tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere and due to this the AQI has dropped to hazardous levels.The hazardous bushfire smoke has intermittently blanketed the heavily populated areas like Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

The wildfire produced fine particles in the air, which was a direct threat to human health. Inhalation of such polluted air causes respiratory problems such as reduced lung function, exacerbated asthma and premature death. 


“This is the black summer of 2019/20 that has proven our national character and resolve. These fires are yet to end and danger is still before us in many, many places, but today, we gather together to mourn, honour, reflect and begin to learn from the black summer that continues.” - Scott Morrison

So is this down to climate change?

Image showing Indian ocean dipole

Firestorms are not new to Australia. It's typically hot and dry, similar to the conditions in the mediterranean. However, this fire season is much earlier and much bigger. The temperature in Australia has been continuously rising. In fact January was the hottest month and 2019 was the hottest and driest year on record. The reality is, this is the function of climate change. 


The rise in the heat can be primarily attributed to the event known as a positive Indian ocean dipole (IOD). In this event, the surface temperature of sea is higher in the western half of the ocean and lower in the east. Due to this, there is higher than average rainfall and even floods in eastern Africa and contrasting draughts in south-east Asia and Australia. Scientists have also warned that the forest fire will be becoming more frequent and more intense in the future.


How can we stop it?

Bushfire can't be stopped completely but it can be controlled to a certain extent. Australia's Indigenous population have a long history of managing the fire across the landscape. Modern technologies have been used which includes satellite mapping and controlled aerial ignition using helicopters or drones. Hence, traditional and modern techniques can be combined to get better results. 

Fire can be controlled by limiting the amount of flammable material in the forest. Easier access routes can be made for firefighters to reach and extinguish the fire. Eventually, humans need to understand that the exploitation of nature will have its consequences and bushfire is one of them. The world needs to make some strong decisions to save the planet.


You can read more about this topic here.