Category Archives: Fire

The new normal: Fires come close to Melbourne, fire plume visable from city

Source: The Age

Source: The Age

This is extraordinary:

AT LEAST one home was destroyed and frightened residents and workers fled as a fast-moving fire came close to Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs. 

The grassfire became an out of control blaze, burning more than 2000 hectares as it headed south from Donnybrook towards urban Epping and Campbellfield. 

More than 600 firefighters in 120 trucks came from across Victoria to battle the flames on a hot and gusty day. They were supported by 11 waterbombing aircraft.

You can see the smoke from the city centre, this time-lapse video shows the fire plume:




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The new normal (part 21): “This feels like failure” or the age of mega fires and the rapidly changing nature of US forests

From Nature, compelling evidence that climate change is making its impact well and truly felt. Firstly, this graph showing the trend for areas burnt by wildfires since 1984:

And while climate change alone cannot be blamed, it is not helping:

Across the American west, the area burned each year has increased significantly over the past several decades (see ‘Bigger blazes’), a trend that scientists attribute both to warming and drying and to a century of wildfire suppression and other human activities. Allen suggests that the intertwined forces of fire and climate change will take ecosystems into new territory, not only in the American west but also elsewhere around the world. In the Jemez, for example, it could transform much of the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest into shrub land. “We’re losing forests as we’ve known them for a very long time,” says Allen. “We’re on a different trajectory, and we’re not yet sure where we’re going.”

A combination of poor policy, drought and parasitic beetles aren’t helping:

Over the past century, however, the policy of quickly dousing fires has allowed brush and spindly young trees to build up in many western forests, so they tend to burn hotter and less patchily than before. And over the past decade, a severe drought across the southwest has weakened trees and made them vulnerable to widespread attack by beetles, leading to a die-off of more than one million hectares of piñon pines (Pinus edulis)1. Many of the dead trees are still standing, and can serve as ladder fuels that transform relatively cool surface fires into hot, fast-moving crown fires that leap from treetop to treetop.

Can the forests be saved? Perhaps – but they will never be as they were:

Given the uncertainties in how climate change, insect outbreaks and other stresses will affect forests in coming decades, Allen thinks that it is necessary to hedge bets after a fire by planting a range of species. He suggests building a “bridge to the future”, by mixing some of the original tree types with species from lower elevations or warmer slopes, which could do well as conditions change. 

That approach would help to make the ecosystems more resilient. But it will not restore the past, says Allen, who is saddened by the dramatic changes in the Jemez Mountains and beyond. At the end of a long, dry and fiercely hot hike through the Las Conchas burn, he surveys the bare hillsides and recalls what they were like just over a year ago — forested, cool and full of life. “For so many of us who have worked here for so long,” he says, “this feels like a failure.”

Australia 2070: we won’t recognize the environment according to CSIRO

The CSIRO has recently released a report (see here) on how climate change is going to radically impact the Australian environment. Even News Corporation publication The Herald Sun – home of Andrew Bolt – is reporting:

And the study’s lead researchers fear Australians may not be ready to accept the new way their country may soon smell, sound and look. 

The Commonwealth’s science and research body has produced the first “Australia-wide assessment of the magnitude of the ecological impact that climate change could have on biodiversity” and how the changes could be managed. 

It says totally new environments will emerge while others vanish and there will be a decline in forest environments, which will give way to shrubs and grasslands. 

“Climate change is likely to start to transform some of Australia’s natural landscapes by 2030,” said lead researcher Dr Michael Dunlop, from the CSIRO’s Ecosystem Sciences division. 

“By 2070, the ecological impacts are likely to be very significant and widespread.


“Many of the environments our plants and animals currently exist in will disappear from the continent. Our grandchildren are likely to experience landscapes that are very different to the ones we have known.” 

The changes will be so profound that they will have major implications for management of the environment and, in particular, Australia’s national parks and nature reserves. 

“If future generations want to experience and enjoy our distinctive plants and animals and the wonders of the Australian bush, then we need to give biodiversity the greatest opportunity to adapt naturally in a changing and variable environment, rather than trying to prevent ecological change,” Dr Dunlop said. 

The study identified a range of management options, including ensuring there is plenty of habitat of different types available for plants and animals. 

“But one of the biggest challenges could be the community accepting the levels of ecological change that we could experience,” Dr Dunlop said.

There has been a steady chorus arguing for adaptation measures and planning to begin immediately. This is not to take away from the issue of mitigation – reducing CO2 emissions.

But the truth – the hard, scary, ugly truth –  is that we are going to overshoot safe boundary limits.

Image of the day: fire and smoke cover most of North America

Because this is normal and nothing to worry about:

Fire and smoke map for August 20. Red dots = active fires. White = smoke. (Click for larger live version.) NOAA | OSDPD

The new normal (part 15): Spain burns

Spain is burning:

Source: MSN


Image of the day: High Park fire, Colorado

Via US Geological Survey, satelite images before and after of High Park fires that burnt out an estimated 50,000 acres:

To attribute, or not to attribute: that is no longer the question

Things that scare me: redux

How many of readers recall early 2011 when cyclone Yasi struck Brisbane?

At least 35 people died in floods across New South Wales and Queensland. The resulting rains and floods costed the Australian economy approximately $10 billion.

Or the flooding suburbs in Melbourne, which I captured on video. So extreme were these events that it caused one member of the Bureau of Meteorology to exclaim: “We’ve never seen anything like it in Australia”

Perhaps you may recall early 2011 fires raged in Western Australia (Black Sunday), while Sydney experienced a record seven-day heat wave.

Across the globe soaring temperatures saw record rains flood two-thirds of Pakistan, while at the same time fires raged across Russia.

Or perhaps your memory goes back to the 2010 records floods in China killed close to 400 people, destroying 1.3 millions homes and caused $54USD billion in damage?

Perhaps some might remember the fires that ripped through Israel in an event called that nations worst natural disaster in history?

Of course there where the floods in Niger and the record rain in the US that saw Nashville inundated.

Indeed in September 2010 I wrote about the things that scared me about the coming Australian summer:

Thus with 2010 looking like being the hottest year record, I think we should be deeply concerned about the coming bushfire season.

As noted by the IPCC, with rising temperatures Australia could be subjected to more floods and catastrophic fires…I earnestly hope some advanced planning is taking place.

While let me reiterate my concerns for the coming Australian summer of 2012-13.

I’m not claiming any prescience, just noting the obvious fact an increase in CO2 that traps more heat, raises temperatures and fuels more extreme weather events.

It makes sense because the science is pretty fucking solid.

The attribution debate is over

Back in 2010 and early 2011 “sensible” voices cautioned about attributing these events to climate change.  This is the so called “attribution” question, and we’re cautioned to not make simple linkages between a flood here and climate change: fair enough.

I recall Michael Tobis writing for the now defunct “Only in it for the gold” asking that very question in 2010 reflecting on the Russian heat wave:

But right now I feel like hazarding a guess. As far as I understand, nothing like this has happened before in Moscow….

…The formerly remarkable heat wave of 2001, then, is “the sort of thing we’ll see more of” with global warming. But it may turn out reasonable, in the end, to say “the Russian heat wave of 2010 is the first disaster unequivocally attributable to anthropogenic climate change.”

Tentative, hedging and qualifying like a good scientist and commentator on this issue should.

Still the blogger Eli at Rabett Run said Michael was asking a “scary question”, noting sardonically:

As Dirty Harry would say, at some point the bunnies have to ask not if the dice are loaded, but if the 44 Magnum is.

Picture the clathrate gun hypothesis playing the role in Eli’s similes of bunnies playing with 44 Magnums. Go on click that link –but only if you’re prepared for the possibilities of loosing sleep.

On second thoughts, you will lose sleep.

So let me state this: it is now pointless wrangling over the question of whether or not to attribute individual events to climate change.

Reality makes that debate redundant.

We’re here: we’ve arrived at the point in history when our species has engineered a new climate. The point we knew was coming – that was inevitable – if we did nothing.  

Slouching towards the Anthropocene

Let’s recap the past few months shall we?

The North American heat wave with 40,000 temperature records broken; six million displaced in India due to monsoon rains, 150 dead in Russia as several months worth of rain falls in a matter of hours; Arctic and Greenland ice loss…

Need I go on?

It’s unfolding as if climate change was real… funny that huh?

I was going to muse on what this all means, but I’ve already did that in August 2010 in the post “Welcome to the Anthropocene”:

Being a blogger frees me from the usual reticence and qualified statements scientists usually (for good reason) make.

I may appear very foolish for saying this, but its time to call it: we’ve well and truly passed a threshold.

Call it climate change, or global warming. Or perhaps you could rename the planet as Bill McKibben suggests (Eaarth). Actually the name really doesn’t matter.

This is the new normal.

Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, there’s more than enough warming “in the pipe” for future “climate disruption”.

The Greenland ice sheet?

Most likely gone.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Most likely gone.

2010 is the year in which the climate news is getting worse: hottest year on record; the ocean’s phytoplankton dying off; the Russian heat wave; the floods in Pakistan (2).

Welcome to the anthropocene.

That’s the thing about the climate change debate. You end up saying the same thing over, and over again. Though who listens is another question…

Famously, one scientist called the climate an angry beast, and that our activities are provoking it. Permit me to run with that metaphor and repurpose the final lines of “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards the Bethlehem to be born?

And what a beast climate change is: slowly, almost methodically it slouches into perception and our lives.

There will come a time when all of us will be forced to stare into face of the beast, aghast and transfixed, like Saturn’s sons staring into the gaping maw of their father.

The new normal


This is how it hits the fan: Michael Tobis on superfires and climate change attribution

Courtesy Planet 3.0

Michael Tobis over at Planet 3.0 has written a brilliant post on the spate of recent “heat” disasters we’ve witnessed these past few years. Michael and the guys over at Planet 3.0 are putting out some good content.

Go read, comment or debate:

In the last few years a phenomenon of intense and persistent medium-scale heat anomalies has clearly emerged. In the past decade, notable events have occurred centered in France, eastern Australia, central Russia and Texas. WHile most of these occur in summer, this spring we had an astonishing warm anomaly centered in WIsconsin and Minnesota.

It’s fair to say that this phenomenon was not clearly predicted in climate models. Consequently, it is fair to say that it is not fully understood, and whether it will remain a persistent feature of the climate is speculative. Strictly speaking, formal attribution will be difficult. But it being a global response, a global cause is to be sought and identification of a prime suspect doesn;t require much imagination. Global warming appears to be manifesting in large part as extreme regional anomalies, rather than as the gentle trend that some people are so eager to presume. And this leads, among other things, to stress on forests.

But, every forest that is with us is a forest on a crowded world. Few are in anything resembling a natural state. In particular, natural forests are susceptible to fires, fires which people living in forested regions are eager to suppress. Consequently, over trhe years, the combustible fuel in the forests (and to a lesser extent in grasslands) accumulates to an extent that would not occur in nature. Consequently, fires become hotter, larger, and more devastating when they do occur. This risk was well understood vefore anthropogenic climate change became a palpable part of our daily lives. The connection between the one and the other was not really considered.

Consequently, the extreme damage we saw in Moscow, in Bastrop Texas just a few months ago, and potentially in Colorado this week, was a Perrow-like interaction of two separate and disconnected unheeded warnings, just as the mortality from Katrina was.

The twenty years we have thrown away on the climate change issue since Rio has amounted to a wandering cosmic heat lamp, heating now one forest, now another, to the point of ignition. How much damage that ignition does comes down to local forest management practice. The building of wealthy suburbs in forested places like Boulder and Bastrop, with a strategy not of forest clearing but of fire suppression, has provided a great supply of tinder.


The pervasive nature of climate change exacerbates many other risks. Failure to account for those other risks occurs for similar reasons to the increasingly obvious failure to account for climate risks. Combined disasters combine worse than additively.

This is how it hits the fan.

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