Climate Change

This chart shows the history of temperatures in Australia

Animals are seen in Cobargo, as bushfires continue in New South Wales, Australia January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy - RC2N9E9LREXK

In the wake of latest Australian bushfires, we examine how the country's temperature has changed. Image: REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

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Climate Change

  • In the past century, average temperatures in Australia have soared – a trend set to continue.
  • Global warming has increased the frequency and intensity of bushfires in the country, scientists say.
  • This summer, 100,000 square kilometres of land have been scorched.

Bushfires are a fact of life for many people in Australia. Each year, blazes are sparked as summer sun dries the landscape leaving forests and woodlands tinder-dry.

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Recently, the flames have arrived earlier in the season, and 2019 was no exception. What was exceptional was the speed with which the wildfires spread and the unprecedented scale of destruction to life, property and the environment.

This graphic shows how much land has been burned by Australia’s recent bushfires. Image: Reuters
Devastating scale

Firefighters in California battle seasonal outbreaks most years, and blazes have burned in Indonesia and incinerated vast areas of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

As some of its forest species, like eucalyptus, rely on fire to regenerate, Australia’s fires differ in nature to some of those events. But in terms of size alone, the total affected area in the Australian state of New South Wales alone was greater than that burned by the fires in California, Indonesia and Brazil combined.

When Queensland, Victoria and other parts of Australia are included, the current bushfire season has scorched more than 100,000 square kilometres of land – an area equivalent in size to Iceland. This has devastated ecosystems, claimed human lives and killed an estimated 1 billion animals.

Mean temperature anomalies in Australia, 1910-2019 Image: Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology
Temperatures rising

Scientists have linked the increasing risk of wildfires around the world to climate change, saying longer periods of hot, dry weather are creating conditions for fires to take hold.

And maps that track the mean temperature anomaly – a departure from the long-term average – across Australia over the past 100 years show the extent of the growing threat facing the country.

The mean temperature anomaly in Australia in 1919 Image: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

A century ago, average temperatures were considerably lower than today. With the exception of one or two hotspots in the south-east, for most of the country mean temperatures stayed around 1℃ above average.

The contemporary mean temperature anomaly is considerably higher. Image: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Today, the picture looks very different. Highs of 3℃ above average in the west are accompanied by higher above-average temperatures across the whole landmass. The mean temperature anomaly for large swathes of Australia is now 1℃ or above.

This trend is set to continue unless urgent action is taken to address the underlying causes of climate change.


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