Australia’s Summer Of Extremities

Monash University’s, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment Emeritus Professor Neville Nicholls says while public attention on the disastrous bushfire crisis in Australia will rightly continue for weeks to come, we shouldn't forget other weather and climate challenges looming.

“Parts of Australia can expect heavy rains and flooding. And northern Australia’s cyclone season is just gearing up,” he says.

“The events will stretch the ability of emergency services and the broader community to cope. The best way to prepare for these events is to keep an eye on Bureau of Meteorology forecasts.

“Global warming is already lengthening the fire season and making heatwaves more intense, more frequent, and longer. It is also increasing the likelihood of heavy rains.”

David Holmes, Director of Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub says the increase in days over 40C across Australia will continue to combine with strong winds, leading to firestorm conditions.

Image Credit: Jeremy Piper

"This isn’t just about cyclical drought which politicians like to use to normalise the current situation (“we have always had droughts”), but about the fact that southern and inland areas of Australia are becoming much drier in a way that is overwhelming typical variability,” Holmes says.

"In the last 15 years, Australia saw eight of its 10 warmest years on record. Climate scientists tell us that, with climate change, weather systems increasingly move poleward. This means that storm tracks that once brought moisture from the Southern Ocean right up the east coast are not reaching as far, and inland and forested areas are becoming much drier.”

As the nation’s bushfires have raged, there have been many theories put forward as to how best we could have avoided the catastrophe. Most recently, the ancient practice of indigenous burning has been debated in the media.

Aboriginal cultural fire practitioner Dennis Barber led a series of cultural burns on six hectares of bushland at Ngurrumpaa five years ago.

Unlike hazard reduction burning, cultural burns are cooler and more gradual. They leaving tree canopies intact and also permitting wildlife to escape the flames.

Barber recently told the Sydney Morning Herald the ancient practice has passed the test of time and is backed by thousands of years of traditional indigenous knowhow.

“It's more than just putting the fire on the ground - it's actually knowing the country, knowing what's there … the soil types, the geology, the trees, the animals, the breeding times of animals, the flowering times of plants,” he said.

Aside from Ngurrumpaa, Mr Barber says another patch of culturally-burnt land at Mangrove Mountain on the Central Coast also escaped last month’s fire unscathed. He hopes these recent results will help to win over the sceptics.

“You've got a patch of green surrounded by blackened country, and that's completely attributable to the cultural burning that we did,” he says.


Lead Image Credit: Jeremy Piper

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