Climate Context on Continuing Australia Fires

By Tom Yulsman | October 18, 2013 1:36 pm
True-color and false-color satellite views of a massive blaze in Australia's Blue Mountains just west of Sydney alternate in this animation. (Images: NASA)

True-color and false-color satellite views of a massive blaze in Australia’s Blue Mountains just west of Sydney alternate in this animation. (Images: NASA)

More than two thousand firefighters continue to battle blazes across New South Wales in Australia, with more than 20 fires still uncontained despite easing weather conditions, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

The animation above shows true- and false-color satellite images of one of those fires, in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney on the coast. The false color frame, based on data from NASA’s Terra satellite, emphasizes the scar from the fire, which has so far torched a little more than 100 square miles — an area slightly larger than the city of Sacramento, California.

The fires have erupted following some of the hottest climate conditions on record in Australia.

The darker orange color in the map above shows the portion of Australia that experienced record high mean temperatures for the 12 month period between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013. That’s 39 percent of the country.

In fact, the number of climatic records that have been broken over the past 12 months is truly astonishing. Here’s a summary from a report by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:

In the past 12-month period a large number of mean temperature records have fallen across Australia including:

  • Australia’s warmest month on record (January)
  • Australia’s warmest September on record
  • Australia’s largest positive monthly anomaly on record (September)
  • Australia’s warmest summer on record (December 2012 to February 2013)
  • Australia’s warmest January to September period on record
  • Australia’s warmest 12-month period on record (broken twice, for the periods ending August and September)
  • Indeed, Australia’s warmest period on record for all periods 1 to 18 months long ending September 2013

Two significant daily maximum temperature records were also set this year:

  • Australia’s hottest summer day on record (7 January)
  • Australia’s warmest winter day on record (31 August)

Australia’s new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who took office in September, has dismissed evidence of climate change as “absolute crap.” He recently abolished the nation’s Climate Change Commission. But it has now been resurrected as an independent, privately funded organization called the Climate Council, which is dedicated to providing independent information to the Australian public.

On its new web site, the Council has weighed in on the links between climate change and bushfires in Australia. Here’s an excerpt:

Climate change can affect bushfire conditions by increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days. Many parts of Australia, including southern New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and parts of South Australia have seen an increase in extreme fire weather over the last 30 years. The projections for the future indicate a significant increase in dangerous fire weather for southeast Australia.

  • LegendPix

    It has more to do with innadequate hazard reduction burning in off season, & poor town plannning allowing innapropriate building in fire-prone bushland margins. Eucalypt is a fire plant. Population growth & development > ignition risks.

  • Puskar

    A convention that specifically restricts biological weapons being used in the event of a war; protects the environment and places restrictions on the choice and mode of weapons. A regulated war as it were, which restricts environmental damage and imposes cost on parties for repair and rebuilding the ecosystem services.

  • Mike Noel

    You are right about the damage to buildings. You are wrong about the overall risk of huge fires related to the warming and drying climate.

  • OWilson

    In context the northern hemisphere set thousands of records for cold and wet in 2013.
    The “inconvenient” scenario here for AGWers is that far more Co2 is produced in the northern hemisphere, than the south.
    It suggests that high levels of Co2 are actually keeping the north cooler and wetter.

    • Drchuck Ll

      Ignorance is bliss…CO2 stays where it is released, not…ignoring the previous decade of record breaking heat in the northern hemisphere is good science, not…the fact that record highs have far outnumbered record lows for years and years is good science, not…cherry picking and ignoring peer reviewed science is good science, for you, yes.

      • OWilson

        No current warming, growing total global ice cover, less hurricanes and tornados, record agricultural production, IPCC 1990 Report projections failed, the expected “50 to 200 million environmental refugees by 2010” (U.N.) never materialized.

        Ignoring empirical observed data, in order to prop up failed theories, is death to the scientific method.

        Skepticism is it’s lifeblood! (See Copernicus, Galileo et al.)

        • OWilson

          By the way, you missed the irony of my original post!

          I’ll put a smiley face there for you next time.

  • jh

    “some of the hottest climate conditions on record in Australia.”

    Foster Farms, which recently suffered from several salmonella cases related to consumption of its chicken, recently advertised that it has:

    “some of the safest chicken in the industry”

    I find the parallels in language interesting.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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