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Australian Research Finds Climate Change Behind Bushfire Surge

FILE - A bushfire burns in Bodalla, New South Wales, Australia, Jan. 25, 2020.
FILE - A bushfire burns in Bodalla, New South Wales, Australia, Jan. 25, 2020.

New research by Australia’s national science agency shows that climate change has driven a significant increase in bushfires over the last three decades.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, has found an 800% rise in the average annual area burned by bushfires in Australia since the 1990s. Parts of the Australian continent are some of the world’s most fire-prone areas.

The study said the “overwhelming factor” causing the spike has been climate change. There have been more extreme heatwaves and a corresponding decrease in rainfall in parts of the country. Since 1910, the research stated that Australia’s mean temperature had increased by 1.4 degrees Celsius.

The study also detailed how the annual fire season has extended before and after summer into autumn and winter, while fire activity has increased in cooler and warmer regions including alpine forests in Tasmania and tropical rainforests in Queensland.

Pep Canadell, the CSIRO’s chief climate scientist, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp., that the world’s fire-prone regions must be better prepared for the wildfire threat.

“There is a lot of things we can do, and we are working on a lot of new warning systems, increase the prediction capabilities, so we can be better prepared before the fire comes,” Canadell said. “That is probably the single-most important thing we can do.”

Australian scientists analyzed 32 years of satellite data and 90 years of ground-based research. They’ve warned that mega-fires that burn more than 1 million hectares are likely to become more frequent.

The Australian bushfire season from July 2019 to March 2020, commonly known as the Black Summer blazes, scorched 24 million hectares of land. It was Australia’s most intense bushfire season on record.

An official inquiry into the disaster said that “compounding disasters” would become more common in Australia. It warned that hazards such as fires, floods and storms could happen at the same time, or one after another.

Authorities in eastern Australia warned in October that grass and crop fires were their greatest concern ahead of the warmer summer months.