Baked Australia: Bushfires Blaze as New Report Pins Blame for Intense Heat Waves on Climate Change

By Tom Yulsman | February 9, 2015 9:26 pm
Baked Australia

Australia as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on Feb. 9, 2015. The black strips are areas of missing data. Note the plumes of smoke from bushfires in the far southwestern part of the country. (Source: NASA)

A new report out earlier this week says climate change is making Australia hotter, with anomalously warm days occurring more often and heat waves becoming hotter, longer and more frequent.

Perhaps the report should have been titled “Baked Australia” instead of “Quantifying the Impact of Climate Change on Extreme Heat in Australia.”

To be honest, at first I wasn’t going to post anything about this. That’s because the report, from Australia’s Climate Council, doesn’t seem to have much if anything  that has not been published before. It’s certainly useful as a synthesis of information. But then I grew concerned that its release was timed to stick a fork in the eye of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was about to undergo a political near-death experience. More about that in a minute. But first…

Baked AustraliaAfter deciding not to post anything about the report, I noted that an intense heatwave was actually gripping a large portion of the country today (Feb. 9th) — and the forecast is for more. (Click the thumbnail at right.)

Also, two large bushfires continued to burn in the southwestern part of the country. You can see the plumes from one of them, in the image up top. Look in the extreme southwestern portion of the country. I wrote about these infernos a few days ago here. (And to see how one of them, near the town of Northcliffe, has evolved over the past 11 days, see the animation lower down in this post.)

Anyway, Australia didn’t want to let go of me today, because I next noted that the Australia Bureau of Meteorology has just reported that 2014 was the third warmest on record Down Under.

That’s really a whole lot of hot stuff in one day. So I decided to go ahead and post something about the report of the Climate Council, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that was formed after Tony Abbott abolished the official government Climate Commission, which had been tasked with providing information to the Australian public on climate change and solutions.

Oh, and here’s one last news peg: Today, Tony Abbott barely survived what he himself described as a “near death experience”: an attempt by rebel Parliament members of his own party to remove him as Australia’s Prime Minister.

This has a climate change angle too, as Reuters reports:

Tony Abbott’s tenuous grip on power has again put climate-change policy at the centre of the nation’s political leadership struggle, raising concerns among miners and hopes for renewable energy advocates.

Abbott once famously said that human-caused climate change was “absolute crap.” Although he has supposedly tempered his position a bit since then, he remains opposed to carbon trading and very much a fan of coal. (Australia is the world’s leading coal exporter.) According to the Reuters piece, Abbott has described it as a fuel for the future.

Well, never mind. As the Sydney Morning Herald puts it:

Tony Abbott’s leadership has suffered a massive blow – inevitably one that will prove fatal to his leadership.

Which is all a very round-about way of saying that the new Climate Council report on climate change in Australia seems newsworthy today, even if its contents aren’t all fresh and new, and even if its publication was politically motivated. So with some hesitation, let’s start with this:

Baked Australia

Source: Australia Climate Council

The graph above, from the report, shows that the number of days when extreme heat is widespread across Australia has increased significantly since 1910, and particularly since the 1950s.

The report offers lots of additional evidence, backed by scientific research, that “Baked Australia” may well be an appropriate moniker for the Land Down Undah. For example (and quoting directly from the report):

› The number of heatwave days has increased over much of Australia, particularly the eastern half.

› Heatwaves are occurring more frequently in terms of the number of heatwave events per summer.

› The duration of the longest yearly heatwave is increasing.

› The first heatwave in the season is occurring earlier over almost all of Australia.

› The hottest day in a heatwave – its peak – is becoming even hotter over almost all of Australia below the tropics.

And the report pins the blame on climate change, saying:

While climate change is already increasing the intensity and likelihood of hot days and heatwaves, recently scientists have been studying specific heat events and asking: just how much of an influence did climate change have? As the following examples show, the answer is that climate change has been a major factor in recent heat events.

Check out the report for the examples. But I will describe one here — the most provocative one, I thought:

The year 2013 was Australia’s warmest on record so far. Using computer model simulations of the climate system, scientists were able to determine the odds that such a record would occur due to natural variation alone — in other words, without our influence.

The answer: It would occur just once in 12,300 years. Based on this evidence, the report concludes that “the 2013 record would not have occurred in the absence of climate change.”

Baked Australia

An animation of satellite images shows the day-by-day growth of a bushfire in Western Australia. (Source: NASA)

Okay, I’ll leave you with this animation of false-color satellite images showing the evolution of that bushfire near the town of Northcliffe in Western Australia. The images come from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The first image was acquired on January 31, 2015; the last on February 10th. (Note: For some days I decided to use two images in the animation instead of one.)

In the images, rust-colored tones show burned areas. Actively burning areas show up in bright orange.

Five images after the start, look for huge, cauliflower shaped clouds over the blaze. These are towering fire clouds, called “pyrocumulus clouds.”

I reckon we’ll see more bushfires like this one as Australia continues to bake.

  • Adrian Fox

    It doesn’t help that Australia has a “half baked” leader who is a climate change sceptic. Until he and his countrymen start taking this problem seriously, the disaster and many others like it will continue to damage our world.

    • zlop

      Seriously, how do you propose to stabilize the weather/climate?

    • nik

      The world has suffered innumerable disasters through out it existence, climate change cause by human carbon output is not one of them.

    • Bill

      He’s not a climate change skeptic, he knows that Man Made CO@ global warming is impossible.

      This youtube vid explains why the earth has been getting hotter, for the past 45,000 years.

      This NASA web page explains why GHG’s actually cool the earth not warm it.

  • OWilson

    I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you might want to check out

    Before you get too carried away.

    There is a growing demand in the world press, for checks and balances on data collection and handling, specifically in those areas 90% of the earth’s surface that have to be “adjusted” and “filled in”.

    Or we could just use satellite data, which is a tad more reliable, but of course, that is presently out of fashion in the warming community.

    There is a lot of ‘splain to do in Iceland and South America just for starters.

    I reckon we’ll see more embarrassing chickens coming home to roost, more inconvenient truth coming out as the world “bakes”.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Mr. OWilson: Let’s focus on the specific subject of this post. Do you deny the data presented here showing that the number of days when extreme heat has been widespread across Australia has increased significantly since 1910, and particularly since the 1950s? If so, what is your evidence?

      • OWilson

        I have little faith in how 1910 data were measured and collected in Australia, blank areas filled, then “adjusted” by “climatologists” today.

        This kind of “faith” in possibly tainted evidence does not demand the same rigorous methodology and is not subject to the same skepticism that real scientists apply to say claims of cold fusion, or the recent anomaly found in the “faster than light neutrinos”, recently apparently observed.

        The full resources of science were brought to bear to prove these findings wrong, in the latter case, by the observers themselves, “We must have made a mistake, somewhere!”

        To me climatology is to science what astrology is to astronomy, namely the collection of certain data, then a very subjective and projective conclusion which, more often than not has proven completely wrong.

        I cite IPCC FAR 1990 as a major example.

        Fortune telling is a business that requires “faith”.
        In real science, the outcome must work every time, no ifs ands or buts.

        It is the only branch of “science” that I am aware of that never, ever, admits fallibility until forced to do so by the opposition or grim reality.

        And that to me is odd! And unique to climatology.

        • Tom Yulsman

          Mr. Wilson, you claim to be motivated by reason and fact but it is obvious that you are just another hyper-partisan who makes himself feel better by sanctimoniously denouncing others. You do it here repeatedly and it might be mildly amusing if it weren’t so predictable and tendentious.

          As to your claims about adjustments to temperature data, you clearly believe only that which helps you advance your political perspective. And I am sure that in another context you would (and may well have) lambasted scientists for NOT making adjustments to raw temperature data. In any case, your claim is spurious, as the following posts show. But I don’t expect the facts to change your perspective. That is clearly set in stone.

          • OWilson

            I tried to explain my logic and rationale to you above. Ces’t la vie!

            I came from Europe, where I was told a lot of things by bureaucrats and government agencies. I learned to be sceptical and it has served me well.

            But I must say they were better liars, than this present lot, Clintons, Al, Obama, and the MSM. :)


          • Tom Yulsman

            I know literally dozens of scientists who work on issues related to climate. Not a single one of them is a bureaucrat or a liar. All of them are honorable people who are doing their best to understand some aspect of nature and our impact on it. They are not “believers,” they are scientists. And as such, to a person they are skeptical in the best sense of that word. They know they are fallible, they know their results could be spurious in numerous ways, and that is one reason why they hold their findings up to scrutiny in journals and in person at scientific conferences (a practice you have derided elsewhere). They are not politicians. They are certainly not in the same category as the Clintons, Gore, Obama, or, for that matter, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, or any of the rest of them. But for some reason, you condemn all of these scientists with an oh so easy and broad sweep of your hand. This is why I don’t take you seriously.

            The truth is, I’d like to take you seriously, because you seem like a very intelligent guy. And I suspect you have something we all could learn from (unlike Zlop, whose posts are wholly hilarious and nothing more). But you put up this wall of bluster and blather that is unscalable (and wholly unconvincing to anyone other than your own tribe). So if you want your ideas to be considered, try being considerate.

          • OWilson

            At the risk of being repetitive, I must clear up your mistaken view of my position. It’s annoying to be lectured with one’s own words.

            I see science as far too valuable to be misused by charlatans, lying Media types, opportunistic political groups and snake oil salesmen.

            Here’s what I posted yesterday, on this blog in DEFENCE of scientists:

            “”That’s hardly fair to real scientists. The problem is not the science, but the politicization of the same.

            We don’t get our daily news from scientists.

            The admittedly liberal MSM are generally the gatekeepers and interpreters and when they say, “scientist say, studies say….”, you are hearing what they want you to hear.

            You should not believe everything the MSM tell you, or even your partisan government, for obvious reasons.

            In spite of the “97% of scientists” figure they throw at you every day, there is, and never was a 97% consensus that climate change will be catastrophic for humanity.

            (That last part is what the left wing leaning folks throw in, not the scientists themselves. The scientists are a little smarter, they hedge their bets, with “may”, “could”, “suggest”, “likely”, “possibly”, “might”, and so on.)””

            (some even say there are benefits to humanity in a slightly warming world, but that part of the message is suppressed. There are many recent studies that confirm: C02 is greening deserts, ice is thicker than thought at the poles, large swathes of land in Canada and Russia could be the new breadbaskets of the future, but you rarely hear about those studies. And for that you cannot blame the scientists) :)

          • nik

            Keep it up, you’re probably shouting at deaf ears, but just maybe someone will uncover their lug-holes and listen to sanity, instead of propaganda and ‘climate religion.’

          • OWilson

            I just want to remind folks that:

            Wealth re-distribution and the destruction of the engine of Western capitalism, by cutting off it’s main energy sources, has been the goal of the radical left for the last 100 years or so.

            It’d be a shame to hand it to them by dupes and well intentioned folk, without any delay, a national debate, or even a question of doubt, but it has happened in history before.

            In the past the demands been “In the name of the workers of the world”, “In the name of Peace”, “In the name of children”, etc..

            “In the name of the planet”, is a logical successor :)

          • Mike Richardson

            There’s been more than enough “debate” on this issue, and there is nothing radical about wanting to support technologies and strategies that allow for growth and prosperity without condemning future generations to an environment even more degraded than the one we’ve got today. Let’s drop the hyperbole and overgeneralizations here and have an actual discussion if you’re serious, because global warming as a result of the uncontrolled release of greenhouse gases by human activity is a fact. The overwhelming scientific research on the subject has established that well beyond reasonable doubt. The only real debate at this point is how we address it.

          • OWilson

            Fortunately, you and your left wing cronies don’t get to decide if or when there has been “more than enough” debate.

            Your so called “degraded” environment we have today, is responsible for everything you the average person, has today, your computer, your mortality rate and longevity, and that of your offspring, your health, clean air and water, and a food supply that kings, sultans, conquerors and dictators could only dream of.

            If you think the third world will give up their right to the same industry and technology and standard of living that you have, just because you now have yours, and don’t appreciate what it took to bring it to you, you are sadly mistaken.

            There will be more debate! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            “Left wing cronies?” Must be nice living in that bubble where everyone that disagrees with your own warped view is a villain. I’m not advocating denying an improved standard of living to anyone — in fact, I’m all for advancing technology that can do it more quickly, using all tools at our disposal, responsibly. Do you really think fossil fuels are the best way to go? Mountain top removal doesn’t result in a degraded environment? Beijing’s got air you’d want to breathe? The Alberta tar sands have improved the state of that province’s natural environment?
            It isn’t unreasonable to acknowledge that the improvements in air and water quality you and I enjoy now are due to environmental regulations that reigned in the worst environmental impacts of industry and energy production. You can thank “left wing cronies” for putting the pressure on politicians to do that, since we’re willing to address reality, instead of pretending there is nothing wrong with business as usual. I would think you could at least agree that we should support alternative forms of energy, to minimize pollution, even if you don’t for some reason regard greenhouse gases as such. Solar, wind, tidal, and even safer versions of nuclear, such as liquid thorium reactors, should all be considered to replace fossil fuels as quickly as possible. It certainly makes more sense to subsidize these technologies instead of more polluting fossil fuels. These are technologies we can help developing nations mature more quickly than we did, shortening the period for them to transition from current forms of energy production to sustainable energy.
            So no, I’m not trying say we should deny a better future to anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m perfectly willing to debate the means to that end, with anyone honest enough to admit we actually can do better than the status quo.

          • OWilson

            Man’s natural inclination is for clean air and water. They poop downstream and even birds and animals clean out their nests and dens.

            And not one left wing environmentalists in sight, lol

            They cut holes in their mud huts to let out smoke, too, all without threat of jails and fines.

            Reality is that the manufacture and infrastructure, transmission, transportation and installation of the energy sources you refer to above all rely heavily on fossil fuels. One day this will change, but we are not there yet.

            But what has this has to do with bureaucrats meddling with the planet’s climate and telling us that they can modulate it over the next 50 years or so to within 2 degrees.

            Especially when the real problems facing the world are terrorism, war, nuclear proliferation, government corruption, ever spiraling national debt, and require all our effort and resources to survive them.

          • Mike Richardson

            A human being does indeed have a natural inclination not to poison himself, or his family, but may well care less for the health of strangers when short-term profit beckons. Corporations can be even more narrowly focused on profit than public welfare, so without some oversight (even by admittedly less-than-perfect bureaucrats and sometimes sanctimonious environmentalists) they frequently foul the nests of others to keep shareholders happy. There are certainly other problems out there, on that we can agree, but I think it really is only common sense to try to work towards better solutions to our need for energy and improved standards of living than the current reliance on non-renewable resources. Unless your own portfolio is heavily weighted with stocks from petroleum and coal companies, defending such dependence on dirty energy borders on an unhealthy fossil fuel fetishism. There’s no doubt we are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels for energy needs, but most addicts on some level realize their addiction is a bad thing, and do not love the drug dealers or defend them from criticism. There’s nothing radical in pointing out that we should wean ourselves from fossil fuel dependence as quickly as possible, for the good of ourselves and our descendants.

          • OWilson

            You can’t have a perfect world just by wishing it.
            I have made a comfortable living from project management consulting with corporations and the three main levels of government.

            I can tell you first hand that the ‘evil corporation” is a myth. It does not and can not exist in the marketplace, at least for very long, unless, ironically, supported by “government”.

            Corporations produce everything you need, food, shelter, medicine, your phone, your computer, furniture, clothing, appliances and everything else including the kitchen sink.

            And, yes, they even produce the solar panels, windmills, and batteries that you love.

            They are image conscious and strive to treat their employees and customers well. They have a national rating systems (ISO, Moody’s, S&P, J.D. Power) and devote much of their income to training, research and development. It’s in their own interest to do so. They also provide most of the real jobs. Accountable? Spill a hot coffee from one of the above on your lap, and you could financially retire.

            I have found government to be more corrupt in terms of incompetence, waste, efficiency, lack of accountability and a high degree of partisanship. Lois Lerner, anyone?

            (And where else could a guy literally off the street become overnight the most powerful man on the planet? Only in government. Obama, I rest my case)

            A society that gives too much power to the government? well, just look abroad!

            But back to climate change. It takes years and years of testing before a drug is released to the public. But a few unscrupulous politicians can change the whole world on far less rigorous science. The flawed speculative science of weather forecasting and climatology. (The definition of climate is: long term weather)

            And they insist on doing it NOW, before it’s too late! We cannot wait! We were wrong before, but don’t worry about that.

            Such unseemly and inappropriate haste!

            You may say, so what? they are on OUR side.
            But look at your history books, that same power in other hands will one day, just as easily, make you, “THEM”

          • Mike Richardson

            Well, I’ve had many years of experience on the government side, working alongside my fellow civil servants helping serve fellow Americans. Yes, there’s examples of corruption in government, but the average government worker is ethical and conscientious, and genuinely believes in helping others. Same for the average worker at any corporation, and probably many of the board members of such institutions. But the ones involved in the extraction of nonrenewable resources are often much less scrupulous, as we’ve seen along the Gulf Coast dealing with BP. I think your hyperpartisanship has blinded you to much of this, particularly when you issue screeds about politicians as the source of warnings about the need to address climate change, when it is actually the majority of scientists knowledgeable about these matters that have been raising the issue. And what of corporations that have accepted the reality of climate change, and have changed their operations to reflect this? Does that change them from “good” to “bad” in your eyes, because that’s about how simplistic your reasoning on this issue has come across. You seem like a smart guy, but you really aren’t taking a very objective or reasoned approach to climate change. It isn’t a conservative or liberal thing, it’s simply acknowledging reality and taking a common sense approach to addressing it.

          • OWilson

            Well at least you picked up my point about the myth of “evil” corporations. We’re making progress here. lol

            As for your appeal to acknowledging reality, if you really were capable of doing that you would find that AGW is negligible, in fact the earth has warmed (according to best evidence – satellite data) 0.35 degrees in the 36 years of observations.

            That’s 0.86 degrees by 2100, and that’s lower than the IPCC target of 2 degrees.

            So much for reality, now for common sense, how should we “address” this non problem?

            And you are now boring me, because if you don’t see this issue as a “conservative or liberal thing”. you haven’t been reading the papers.

          • zlop

            “Wealth re-distribution and the destruction of the engine of
            Western capitalism, by cutting off it’s main energy sources”

            Wealth leverages, monopolizes, denies opportunity.
            “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote
            away their wealth.” ― Lucy Parsons, Lucy Parsons

            Hence Carbon taxes and coming Carbon rationing,
            for the Serfs, not for the Evil Elite.

          • nik

            There are two issues;
            1. Climate change..this is a fact.
            2. Has human carbon production caused it or influenced it, … this is fantasy.

            CO2 is not a significant cause of global warming, and probably never has been, Atmospheric CO2 increase is CAUSED by global warming, not the reverse.


  • mememine

    Give deniers the real scientific consensus they are demanding before expecting them to “believe” and condemn children to a “crisis”.
    Deniers have successfully prevented climate action for 34 years so if you doomers really want to save the planet then find any CO2 scientist willing to say they are not “allowed” unlike you “believers” who tell children it’s; “PROVEN” we need to save the planet.
    A scientific consensus of “could be” the end of days was unsustainable.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Uhm, Mr. (or Ms. perhaps?) mememine: I don’t know any scientist who is speaking of “the end of days.” (Don’t you just love straw men?)

  • zlop

    Weather changing only a little.
    Ready to decline into an Ice Age. what will Australian climate be like?
    “2015-2035 Mini Ice Age | Sunspots and Cooling Earth Temperatures”

  • nik

    The earth’s climate has been changing constantly throughout it existence.

    The earth’s climate has been warming for at least the last 30,000 years, its an asymptotic process, which is currently trending towards its peak.

    “Abbott once famously said that human-caused climate change was ‘absolute crap,’” couldnt be truer, but it could be political suicide, to go against the current ‘religion.’

    Human effect on the earth’s climate by carbon input is negligible, and trivial. The profits to be made from carbon tax is not trivial.

    The old saying ‘where there’s muck there’s money’ is reversible, to where there’s money, there’s muck, or corruption, and there’s plenty of that about, especially when it comes to ‘climate change.’



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.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar