Australia Wildfire Crisis
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Baljit Dhaka

Australia Wildfire Crisis

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Australia Wildfire Crisis

Why in the news?

News agencies reported that 27 people and up to a billion animals have been killed and thousands subjected to repeat evacuations as the unpredictable fires spread over large areas in the east and south-east particularly in New South Wales and Queensland region.  

Australia’s bushfires have razed more than 10.3 million hectares (103,300 sq km) of land — roughly the size of South Korea — since September.

Reasons that could be attributed

Human Activities::Police have clarified that only 24 people are currently facing criminal charges for deliberately igniting fires and even fewer have actually managed to start large fires.

Extreme weather conditions in Australia:: Very high temperatures, extended drought period(driest spring on record), and strong winds (spreads the bushfires) have converged to create disastrous fire conditions.

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds::

The weather conditions are the results of the formation of pyrocumulonimbus clouds. 

The pyrocumulonimbus clouds are essentially a thunderstorm that forms from the smoke plume of fire as intense heat from the fire causes air to rise rapidly, drawing in cooler air.

As the cloud climbs and then cools in the low temperatures of the upper atmosphere, the collisions of ice particles in the higher parts of the cloud build up an electrical charge, which can be released as lightning. These can cause dangerous and unpredictable changes in fire behavior, making them harder to fight as well as causing lightning strikes that could ignite new fires.

The rising air also spurs intense updrafts that suck in so much air that strong winds develop, causing a fire to burn hotter and spread further.

Severe and Prolonged Drought Conditions:: Australia is also experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades. The Bureau of Meteorology said in December that last spring was the driest on record. 

Meanwhile, a heatwave in December broke the record for the highest nationwide average temperature, with some places sweltering under temperatures well above 40º Celsius. Strong winds have also made the fires and smoke spread more rapidly, and have led to fatalities.

Delayed Monsoon::

The 2019 June-September monsoon in India started its withdrawal on October 9, against the normal date of September 1, making it the most delayed in recorded history. 

It was also the strongest in recent years with a surplus of 10% in 2019 both attributed in part due to the positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). 

During a positive IOD phase, the west Indian Ocean warms up anomalously (creating lower pressure and wet climes) relative to the east (higher pressure and a dry phase, towards the Australian side). positive IOD that persisted longer than usual is thought to have contributed to a delay in the transition of the monsoon trough from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and onset of the Australian monsoon.

Impact of Such wildfires:

Agricultural Production impacted

Loss of Human lives

Loss of Flora and Fauna- Loss of Biodiversity

Leads to the evacuation of communities – Temporary migration to other places

Economic disruption

Frequent wildfires in near future will make the region uninhabitable and thus catalyzing environmental migration.

Questions the developmental Model of the Country (Dependence on Coal Sector for its economic development which leads to GHG(Green House gases) emissions)

Questions the commitment of World towards battling Climate Change especially its impact now being clearly felt. This will pressurize US (which has withdrawn from the Paris deal) and other countries to increase their Paris Deal commitments

Impact on India

Strengthen the voices of people who argue against India’s dependence on fossil fuels like Coal & petroleum

India’s ability to import high-quality Coal from Australia will be impacted.

Indian investment in Australia’s coal sector will be endangered Ex: Adani Carmichael Coal mine project in Galilee Basin in Queensland, Australia

Moral Pressure on India to take up leadership of fighting climate change in the Asia-Pacific region.

Way Ahead

Adoption of Cleaner technologies that emit fewer greenhouse gases.

Enhancing the capabilities of government authorities to face similar incidents in the future.

Citizen awareness about the dangerous of Climate Change and thus persuade them to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle having less carbon footprint

Diversifying energy basket so as to reduce dependence on Coal & other fossil fuels. Instead promoting use of renewable energy like solar power.

Developing a comprehensive Migration & Refugee Policy in the wake of increasing possibilities of environmental refugees

Special Note::

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)::

 The Indian Ocean Dipole - often called the "Indian Nino" because of its similarity to its Pacific equivalent - refers to the difference in sea-surface temperatures in opposite parts of the Indian Ocean.

A positive IOD means a wetter west and drier east.

Temperatures in the eastern part of the ocean oscillate between warm and cold compared with the western part, cycling through phases referred to as "positive", "neutral" and "negative".

The dipole's positive phase this year - the strongest for six decades - means warmer sea temperatures in the western Indian Ocean region, with the opposite in the east.

The result of this unusually strong positive dipole this year has been higher-than-average rainfall and floods in eastern Africa and droughts in south-east Asia and Australia.

When an Indian Ocean dipole event occurs, the rainfall tends to move with the warm waters, so you get more rainfall than normal over the East African countries. On the other hand, in the east of the Indian Ocean, sea surface temperatures will be colder than normal and that place will get a reduced amount of rainfall.

A negative dipole phase would bring about the opposite conditions - warmer water and greater precipitation in the eastern Indian Ocean, and cooler and drier conditions in the west.

A neutral phase would mean sea temperatures were close to average across the Indian Ocean.