The climatic phenomenon that affects the country causes intense drought and contributes to the intensification of fires – further aggravating global warming.
One year is over, another year has begun, and Australia still burns. The fire has consumed the country since July 2019: about 10 million hectares were burned, 28 people and half a billion animals died. Some experts claim, however, that 1 billion animals have already lost their lives, with koalas, the symbol of the country, being one of the most affected species.
Prime Minister being accused of negligence
As if this dramatic reality were not enough, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reluctant to address the problem with the necessary urgency right from the start and was accused of maintaining a negative policy towards the environment. The issue continues causing controversy because, in addition to the smoke from the fires, the country’s main energy sources are coal mines, which are major air pollutants.
Fires happen every year
It cannot be stated that Australians were taken by surprise by the fires: the phenomenon happens naturally every year. According to the local government, several native plants in the country are naturally flammable, and some plant species depend on fire to regenerate. Flames carry out an important role even for indigenous peoples, who for a long time used the trails of fire to establish boundaries.
This time is different, and here’s why
In September 2019, bushfires went out of control. The key reason is a climatic phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (also known as the Indian Niño), which causes periods of intense heat and drought. Temperatures above 45ºC, strong winds, little rain, and dry vegetation characterize this type of El Niño. The Australian sky gained reddish tones because of the ashes, and the air quality was 22 times worse than what was considered appropriate.
We all lose
In fact, the entire planet loses, since global warming is the main product of this sum of negative consequences. Fires of these proportions contribute to launching massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which increases the average temperature of the Earth.
Also, some side effects contribute to further warming the planet. In New Zealand, for example, glacier snow has turned brown thanks to the ashes brought in by the wind from the neighboring country. This phenomenon accelerates the melting of the ice, as it prevents the sun’s rays from being reflected – as a result, the snow absorbs more light and heat.
The smoke reached as far as South America
And the rest of the world can also suffer consequences. In South America, smoke arrived in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.
According to the Brazilian meteorologist Fabio Luengo, it is still possible to observe by satellite a brown mass brought by polar jets in the south of Uruguay. And due to the proportions of the fires, it is difficult to say when it will disappear. “Visibly, we don’t have an estimated time for this mass to disappear. It will take time for the atmosphere to return to normal ”, predicts Luengo.
Smoke around the world
On Jan. 14, NASA issued a statement warning that the smoke will perform a complete turn around the world and will hover over Australia in a few days. Studying the plumes from late December, the US space agency said the smoke had already traveled “half the Earth” and affected air quality in other countries.
Jet streams are spreading the smoke
According to meteorologists, jet streams are responsible for transporting gases. An example of this phenomenon was when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland in 2010 and its ashes caused a significant part of European air transport to be paralyzed, affecting thousands of flights and causing a domino effect worldwide.
Are fires in Australia similar to those in the Amazon?
Many resemble the fires in Australia with the fires that hit the Amazon — and drew attention from around the world — in 2019. But make no mistake: not every fire is the same. The only possible similarity is their effect on global warming due to the proportions of the two episodes.
Together, fires in Brazil and Australian territory have already emitted more than 370 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).
However, unlike Australia, fires in the Amazon rainforest are unnatural, since the biome is humid. The fires that drew attention in 2019 were mainly caused by human action, as part of the deforestation process. So, it is more correct to compare the current burning season in Australia with what happened in the Amazon in 2015, when El Niño caused extreme drought, giving conditions for fires to spread.