The role of climate change in Australia’s black summer

Abstract

The 2019/20 Black Summer bushfire disaster in southeast Australia was unprecedented in recorded history. Decades of scientific research and assessments have concluded that forest fires are virtually certain to become more frequent due to human-caused climate change, but the range of climate processes that influence fire risk creates complexity in the ability to model and quantify the additional fire risk attributed to climate change. Here, we review how climate variability and change is altering forest fire potential in southeast Australia. 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, promoting the dry and expansive fuel loads which primed the landscape to burn when exposed to dangerous fire weather and ignition. Historically the compounding effects of two or more climate modes in their fire-promoting phases (as occurred in 2019) is associated with an increased chance of large forest fires in southeast Australia, and palaeoclimate evidence demonstrates that fire-promoting phases of tropical Pacific and Indian ocean variability are more frequent now than at any other time in recent centuries. Changes in atmospheric stability are increasing the risk of fires developing into extreme pyroconvective storms in parts of southeast Australia, and the extraordinary number of extreme fire events in 2019/20 demonstrates the historical and global significance of the Black Summer fire season. Indicators of forest fire danger in southeast Australia have already emerged outside of the range of historical experience, suggesting that the observable increases fire risk that were projected to be detectable by 2020 have eventuated. Improving local and national adaptation measures while also pursuing global climate change mitigation efforts provide the best strategies for limiting further increases in fire risk in southeast Australia.

An article about what she will be discussing in her presentation:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/australias-angry-summer-this-is-what-climate-change-looks-like/

Biography

Professor Nerilie Abram is a Chief Investigator in the Centre for excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX) https://climateextremes.org.au/.

Professor Nerilie Abram uses palaeoclimate records to study how Earth’s climate has behaved in the past to provide a long-term perspective on recent climate change. She has a particular focus on reconstructing climate variability in the tropical Indian Ocean and Antarctica, and how this impacts Australia’s rainfall patterns. Her work also involves proxy-model comparisons to assess forcing mechanisms behind natural and anthropogenic climate changes, and to help test climate model performance in historical and last millennium experiments. Nerilie holds an ARC Future Fellowship. In 2015 she received the Dorothy Hill Award from the Australian Academy of Science for her research achievements. She was coordinating lead author of the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate released in September 2019. You can find more about her publications at https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/abram-nj

Venue

This seminar will be held using the video conferencing software Zoom. If you would like the link, please email sees.seminars@uq.edu.au