‘This crisis has been unfolding for years’: 4 photos of Australia from space, before and after the bushfires



Use the slider tool in the images below to see before and after NASA satellite images of Australia’s fire and drought effects.
NASA

Molly Glassey, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Editor’s note: We pulled four before-and-after-images from NASA’s Worldview application, and asked bushfire researcher Grant Williamson to reflect on the story they tell. Here’s what he told us:


I’ve been studying fires for more than a decade. I use satellite data to try to understand the global and regional patterns in fire – what drives it and how it will shift in the future as our climate and land use patterns change.

When I look at these images I think: this is a crisis we have seen coming for years. It’s something I have been watching unfold.

Look at the sheer scale of it. Seeing this much fire in the landscape in such a broad area, seeing so much severe fire at once, this quantity and concentration of smoke – it is astonishing. I haven’t seen it like this before.

November 1, 2019 and January 3, 2020

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In this comparison, you can see November last year versus now. In the present picture (on the right hand side) you can see a vast quantity of intense fires currently burning right down the eastern seaboard and a huge amount of smoke. It’s been blowing out across toward New Zealand for weeks now.

The scale of the current fires is definitely unusual. In a typical year, you might see, for example, a large fire in the alps (near Mount Kosciuszko) or in the Blue Mountains – but they would be isolated events.

What’s striking here is that there is so much going on at once. I have never seen it like this before.

Black Saturday smoke, Feburary 8, 2009 and the 2019-2020 bushfires smoke, January 3, 2020

This one is comparing two smoke events: one from Black Saturday and one from the current fires. In both cases, huge quantities of smoke was released. Both times, the sort of forest burning is very dense, there is a lot of wet eucalypt forest here which naturally has a high fuel load and that’s creating all that smoke. This type of forest only burns during extreme weather conditions.

Simply due to the scale of it and the fact that it’s been going on so long, I would say the current event is worse than Black Saturday, in terms of the quantity of smoke.

East Australia, 10 years ago vs today

In this image, we can the impact of drought. A decade ago, on the left hand side, it was clearly quite green along eastern Australia. That green shows there is a lot of growing vegetation there: pasture crops, grasses and a very wet environment.

If you compare that to the current year, on the right hand side, you can see it’s now extremely brown and extremely dry. There’s not much in the way of vegetation. That’s a result of drought and high temperatures.

Kangaroo Island, 2 months ago vs today

In this image, you can see Kangaroo Island two months ago on the left hand side, versus today.

The main thing I note here is the drying. The “before” image is so much greener than the “after” image. So there’s a real lack of rainfall that’s driving fire severity in this area. You can really see how much the island has dried out.


This has been an extraordinary year for climate and weather, and that’s manifesting now in these unprecedented bushfires. It’s not over yet.

But what’s important is the lessons we draw from this crisis and doing as much as we can to reduce the risk in future.


Grant Williamson is a Tasmania-based researcher with the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub.The Conversation

Molly Glassey, Digital Editor, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NASA is right: Australia needs CSIRO’s aerosol monitoring more than ever


Surya Karthik Mukkavilli, UNSW Australia and Merlinde Kay, UNSW Australia

Atmospheric scientists worldwide are seeking to save Australia’s involvement in a NASA-led global network of instruments that monitor microscopic particles called “aerosols”, which play an important role in cooling and warming the Earth’s climate.

When most people think of aerosols, their mind turns to fly spray or deodorant. But the term has a much broader meaning, covering any microscopic particle that can remain airborne for long periods. Think of household dust floating in a ray of sun through your window. It’s an aerosol. So is smoke, salt spray from the sea, ultrafine sand from beaches and deserts, ash from volcanoes, and the carbon soot emitted from car and truck exhaust pipes.

These aerosols sometimes give us blazing red sunsets. But they are also crucial in controlling the Earth’s climate, acting as both warming and cooling agents. Although, molecular gases like methane and carbon dioxide garner more attention for their strong warming effect.

A stark example of the role atmospheric aerosols can play is the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The 20 million tonnes of aerosol ejected into the atmosphere by this eruption reduced average global temperatures by 0.5℃ for the following two years.

Crucial monitoring

An important tool in the study of atmospheric aerosols is an international monitoring network, led by NASA, called the Aerosol Robotic Network AERONET. It consists of more than 450 monitoring stations across seven continents, including several sites in Australia.

AERONET’s data help atmospheric scientists worldwide to understand how aerosols influence both the global climate, and the daily weather at local scales. The importance of aerosols in the weather is twofold. In addition to affecting atmospheric heat balance, aerosols are also responsible for seeding the formation of clouds.

CSIRO’s reported plans to withdraw from AERONET has dismayed atmospheric scientists, both at NASA and in Australia. CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall has reportedly justified his planned changes to the agency’s climate science program on the need to divert resources towards a focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

A shift in focus towards action is certainly admirable. As any rational citizen knows, climate change is a clear and present danger to our future, and the need for compelling action towards mitigation and adaptation is urgent.

Government action on climate change is highly encouraged by atmospheric scientists. But it’s dangerous to develop climate policies without reference to reliable, up-to-date environmental data on global temperature, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, just as it would be foolhardy to develop national economic policy without reliable economic data on national debt, government revenue and expenditure, and unemployment figures.

Whether it’s the economy or the climate, without an eye on the data, how can one be sure that policy is having the intended outcome?

Aerosol tracking is vital

Aerosol data of the kind that AERONET provides are vital to the climate change mitigation and adaptation goals upon which CSIRO is now focusing its efforts. Here are two clear reasons why.

A key strategy to reduce greenhouse emissions is the widespread uptake of renewable energy sources, particularly solar energy. Australia, the sunburnt country, has enough sunshine to power not just our own population, but with future storage technologies, enough to export for national profit.

Aerosols have a significant influence on how much sunlight makes it onto the surface of a solar panel. Aerosol particles scatter and absorb the Sun’s rays, and they also help to form clouds which can reduce solar panels’ effectiveness. Thus having precise data on atmospheric aerosols in Australian skies is vital to maximising the output, efficiency and stability of our solar energy facilities.

The second reason involves adapting to climate change, rather than mitigating it. Australia’s agriculture industry is highly dependent on rainfall. Droughts and floods are highly damaging, and both are predicted to become more frequent and severe due to climate change.

Once again, aerosols’ role in cloud formation is a crucial factor here. Aerosols also affect the properties of existing clouds, such as droplet size, which in turn has a significant impact on rainfall.

Adaptation to changing rainfall patterns and climatic events such as El Niño are vital to continued output and growth in Australian agriculture. Reliable aerosol data – obtained in Australia, by Australia, and specific to the Australian atmosphere – are vital to making informed decisions about how to protect agriculture in the future.

These two examples – one focused on energy and the other concerning agriculture – show how two of Australia’s key economic sectors each rely on atmospheric aerosol monitoring. CSIRO has for many years played a major role in providing these data, and NASA is right when it urges CSIRO not to stop now.

More broadly, it’s vital to realise that climate monitoring and modelling, and mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand. We can’t build proper policy for action without reliable data and forecast models. The government certainly knows this when it comes to the national economy; the same holds when it comes to climate policy.

The Conversation

Surya Karthik Mukkavilli, OCE Scholar, Oceans & Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO + PhD Candidate, School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering, UNSW Australia and Merlinde Kay, Senior Lecturer, School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

131 Years of Climate Change


The following link is to an article concerning a video produced by NASA relating to climate change over the last 131 years – well worth a look.

For more visit:
http://www.climatecentral.org/videos/web_features/nasa-finds-2011-ninth-warmest-year-on-record/