CSIRO finds climate change greatest factor behind worsening bushfire problem
Australian scientists have found more evidence the country’s big increase in bushfires is boosted by climate change which is increasing the risk of a phenomenon called “mega fire years”.
The federal science agency CSIRO said climate change was the “overwhelming factor” behind the country’s longer and more frequent fire seasons.
Scientist Pep Canadell said there were eight “drivers” behind fire activity, including climate, fuel accumulation, ignition and blaze management.
“While all eight drivers of fire-activity played varying roles in influencing forest fires, climate was the overwhelming factor driving fire-activity,” Dr Canadell said.
“The results also suggest the frequency of forest megafires are likely to continue under future projected climate change.”
It was already known climate change has worsened Australia’s devastating bushfire problem.
But the new research showed fire seasons are getting longer and stretching into autumn and winter.
The blazes are also increasing in cooler areas such as Tasmania and tropical rainforests in Queensland.
Researchers looked at satellite data and 90 years worth of information collected on the ground.
They found three out of four “mega fire years” since the 1930s have occurred in the current century.
CSIRO defines a mega fire year as when more than 1 million hectares of forest burns in a year.
Since 1910, Australia’s mean temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees with a “rapid increase in extreme heat events”.
Meanwhile, rainfall has declined in Australia’s south and east.
The research also found Australia is bucking an international trend of decreasing fire activity.
CSIRO used satellite data from the past 32 years, and found an alarming trend.
“When comparing the first half (1988 – 2001) with the second half (2002-2018) of the record studied, the research showed that the average annual forest burned area in Australia increased 350 per cent, and 800 per cent when including 2019,” the agency said.
In the same time period, the average burned area in winter increased five-fold.
Autumn scorching increased three-fold, while spring and summer burns increased ten-fold.
“In Australia, fire frequency has increased rapidly in some areas and there are now regions in the southeast and south with fire intervals shorter than 20 years. This is significant because it means some types of vegetation won‘t reach maturity and this could put ecosystems at risk,” Dr Canadell said.
“Understanding these trends will help to inform emergency management, health, infrastructure, natural resource management and conservation.”
Originally published as CSIRO finds climate change greatest factor behind worsening bushfire problem
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