Australia Bushfires in south-west WA impacted by global trend of drying Mediterranean climates

04:26  27 february  2021
04:26  27 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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7. Climate feedback loops. The bushfires have not only been made more likely and intense by climate change, they also add to it. Until the 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season, the forests in Australia were thought to reabsorb all the carbon released in bushfires across the country. The bushfires have scorched pasture, destroyed livestock and razed vineyards, with regrowth and recovery likely to stretch water resources already challenged by drought. Reports indicate that the country’s dairy supply will likely be hit hardest, with Victoria and New South Wales— Australia ’s key milk-producing

More than a hundred bushfires have ripped through Australia in an unusually early and intense fire season, made worse by climate change. Dozens of people and tens of thousands of koalas are feared dead. Australia faced a devastating start to it’s fire season in late 2019, and things swiftly got worse before rains helped contain many of the worst fires in February 2020. The Verge will update this page with news and analyses. What’s happened so far? Dozens of fires erupted in New South Wales, Australia , prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in November 2019.

a group of clouds in the sky: Flames and smoke rise from the massive Wooroloo bushfire, as seen from a property in Bullsbrook. (Supplied: Rachael Harpley) © Provided by ABC NEWS Flames and smoke rise from the massive Wooroloo bushfire, as seen from a property in Bullsbrook. (Supplied: Rachael Harpley)

In the wake of the recent Wooroloo bushfires in Western Australia, fire experts have warned a long-term reduction in rainfall in the state's south-west is making blazes there worse.

"I think serious fires have become more frequent," said Murray Carter, executive director of the Rural Fire Division in WA's Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).

"Those which you characterise as causing damage to property or worse, human fatality, which we obviously don't want to see.

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Two bushfires burning out of control in Kangaroo Island in South Australia are expected to cause significant property damage, including to the infrastructure in the Forest Chase national park. The main road into Western Australia from the eastern states, the Eyre highway, remains cut off due to bushfire and is not expected to open until at least Monday, prompting concerns that WA could run out of some supplies. And not just Cobargo — but especially Cobargo — but everyone impacted by these fires.

A key small business lobby group has urged any climate change sceptics on the Coalition frontbench to quit their ministries, arguing they stymied preparations for this bushfire season. "It will have a huge impact , and the impact on the businesses means an impact on the whole community as jobs are lost." Mr Strong said it is not just businesses in towns directly ravaged by the fires that are suffering. Parliament House was shrouded by a heavy haze as Canberra was blanketed in bushfire smoke.

"Two decades ago we would've had those fires maybe once every five or six years, now we get them every two or three."

Fire season extending as winter rains shrink

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the south-west corner of Western Australia has seen a 20 per cent reduction in winter rainfall since the 1970s due to climate change.

Much of the decline in rainfall has occurred during the autumn and early winter months (April to June), according to Lachie McCaw, the principal research scientist with WA's Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DPCA).

"It means that dry conditions, conducive to fire ignition and spread, may persist for the first half of the year," he said.

"Fire seasons are extending longer into the autumn and in some years are beginning a month or more earlier than was typically the case a decade or two ago."

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Climate change impacts on. fi re-weather in south -east. Australia . Bushfires have been part of Australia ’s environment for millions of years. Our natural ecosystems. 1.1 Previous assessments of climate change impacts on fire risk. Global warming is likely to increase fire frequency and severity. Propotion of fires that are destructive. Figure 2: Trend in the proportion of unplanned fires in Sydney

Global warming and climate change refer to an increase in average global temperatures. Natural events and human activities are believed to be main contributors to such increases in average global temperatures. As the pattern becomes more pronounced, severe heat waves occur in the Mediterranean region and the southern and western United States. Other parts of France, Germany and the Balkans also become more susceptible to severe heat waves. "Extreme weather events will have some of the most severe impacts on human society as climate changes, "says Meehl.

Dr McCaw said a shorter, drier winter rainy season was leading to drier, more combustible fuels in the summer fire season.

"When warmer conditions return during the spring, large dead woody material ignites readily," he said.

He said declining autumn rains were extending the fire risk into winter.

"We have experienced several events of widespread bushfire activity in late May and early June in the last few years," Dr McCaw said.

"These events have resulted from the coincidence of persistent dry fuels conditions and strong pre-frontal winds associated with early winter cold fronts."

Drying trend a worldwide phenomenon

The drying trend in south-western Australia is part of a pattern of reductions in winter rains around the world, according to Pandora Hope, a climatologist with the Bureau of Meteorology.

She said the trend has been affecting temperate regions which have wet winters and dry summers — the so-called Mediterranean climates.

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Changes in climate could have significant impacts on food production around the world. Heat stress, droughts, and flooding events may lead to reductions in crop yields and livestock productivity. Areas that are already affected by drought, such as Australia and the Sahel in Africa, will likely experience reductions in water available for irrigation. Climate change is very likely to affect global , regional, and local food security by disrupting food availability, decreasing access to food, and making utilization more difficult. [7] Climate risks to food security are greatest for poor populations and in tropical regions.

Perth has a Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa), with hot, dry summers and cool The WA Department of Health defines a heat wave to be 3 or more consecutive days, where the forecast Minor bushfires occur around Perth most summers, and occasionally major ones can occur as well The Noongar people live in the south west corner of Western Australia , including Perth.

"We've seen similar declines in southern Africa and South America," she said.

Chile experienced what became known as the megadrought over the past decade, with a 30 per cent reduction in rainfall there.

The Western Cape region in South Africa has recently recovered from the Day Zero drought that saw Cape Town nearly run out of drinking water in 2018.

Dr McCaw said there was a global pattern of increased fire activity in Mediterranean climates.

"Looking back over the past five years, there have been damaging bushfires in the western US, Chile, South Africa and Mediterranean European countries including Greece, Portugal and Spain," he said.

"The south-west of WA has also experienced some damaging bushfires, most recently at Wooroloo and also at Yarloop in January 2016."

Climatologists believed the drying trend in these Mediterranean climates was being partly driven by winter storms tracking further south, due to the effects of climate change.

"As you get an expansion in the tropics and more high-pressure systems over the region, it just makes it that much harder to rain," Ms Hope said.

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"There are changes to the fronts that come across the region that normally bring rainfall; we're seeing a decline in the number of them, but also decline in the amount of rainfall that comes from them."

Adapting to more fire

Mr Carter said West Australians could adapt to the changes by being more proactive.

"We talk a lot about community resilience, but we also need to talk about landscape resilience, and that's about using fire in the landscape," he said.

Dr McCaw said the biggest fire threat in south-western Australia was from large-scale, high-intensity bushfires burning during the summer dry season.

"Attempting to exclude fire on a broad scale will lead inevitably to this outcome and put the community and the environment at significant risk," he said.

"The approach that continues to be used in WA by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Parks and Wildlife Service is to use fire wisely through prescribed burning."

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