The number of bushfires in Australia is on the rise, +40% since Y 2007 local scientists have found.
In a new research paper, published earlier this year in the journal Royal Society Open Science, scientists from CSIRO and University of Tasmania also say the increasing bushfire frequency indicates a major climatic shift.
However, the research does not directly ascribe the rise to human-caused global warming.
The research team studied NASA satellite data from Y’s 2007 to 2013 to determine the number of bushfires, to try and develop a system to forecast where they might breakout.
They estimate that in Y 2007 Australia had an average 3284 bushfires per week. By Y 2013 that had risen to 4595. The numbers were corrected downwards to account for certain fire events, such as planned burns by fire authorities.
“In particular, a major increase in bushfire frequencies has been recorded from this data analysis since Y 2011… indicates a major climatic shift,” the study says.
The bushfire frequency numbers were determined as the researchers were endeavouring to create a model to project a week ahead where bushfires could most likely occur, and at what potential intensity.
Using a computer model, bushfire “Hot Spots” were determined by crunching weekly weather data such as wind speed, soil moisture, dry fuel loads and ambient air temperatures, along with numerous other inputs.
The group tested its model by looking at past conditions, then comparing where Hot Spots were being registered with the historical bushfire data from NASA. The model was finding Hot Spots where bushfires had occurred with 91% accuracy.
A senior research scientist with CSIRO’s Data61 group, said if the system was implemented it could help guide where best to dedicate resources in conjunction with firefighters local knowledge and other information.
He added that as he was not a climate scientist, rather a computer scientist and data analyst, he should not comment directly on whether global warming was behind the rise in bushfires the group had estimated.
But other scientific work has suggested that the warming climate in Australia, temperatures have risen about 1 degree on average since Y 1910, has increased the length of the bushfire season in well populated parts of the country, along with making more frequent daily conditions of extreme fire risk.
A fact sheet released by the advocacy group, the Climate Institute, early this year pointed to evidence the total yearly Forest Fire Danger Index, which measures the occurrence and severity of daily fire weather, had significantly increased at 42% of sites monitored around the country since the 1970’s, rising particularly rapidly in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
The Institute also pointed to modelling that found by Y 2050 the number of extreme fire days could grow in Southern and Eastern Australia by up to 50% if Greenhouse gas emissions are constrained and up to 300% if they are not.
Questions about the role of climate change in creating more favourable conditions for bushfires to take hold were raised in the wake of the report amid the devastating bushfires burning in parts of the Tasmanian world heritage wilderness.
Remember, when traveling in the wilderness, and Fire Danger Zones, be extremely careful, lives and property depend on it.
By Rhys O’Connell
Paul Ebeling, Editor
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