Causes of wildfires in Australia

Prolonged drought and record-breaking heat in 2019 caused catastrophic wildfires in Australia, which peaked at the end of the year. The hot and dry weather was caused by a combination of an extremely positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which is linked to the distribution of water temperatures, as well as a large dome of still high pressure hanging over the continent. Eastern Australia was more severely affected by the heatwave, and drought and wildfires were most intense in eastern New South Wales.
Fig. 1 Fires in Australia, satellite image

How many animals died from the fire

Now that the situation has normalized, the global community has begun to assess the damage and clean up after the disaster. According to estimates by the University of Sydney and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the fires killed more than 1 billion animals, not counting amphibians, insects and other invertebrates. And those animals that managed to survive were deprived of their habitat for a long time, which can take up to 100 years to recover.

How many people died from the fire

There have been far fewer human casualties, with 24 deaths since September 2019.

How many forests have burned

As of the end of January 2020, 63,000 square kilometers of forests have burned.
Fig. 2 Fires in Australia, MODIS satellite image. Fire centers are highlighted in red

Damage from fires

The economic damage from cataclysms is yet to be assessed, as fires deprived thousands of people of their homes, and it takes a lot of money to build new housing. Australia is a major exporter of wheat, but the prolonged drought has led to crop failures in this particular crop.
Fig. 3 Image of Australia from space, plume of smoke from fires
To understand the scale of the tragedy in Australia, it is worth comparing it with other major cataclysms. As a result of fires in Siberia in 2019, 45 thousand square kilometers of forest were destroyed (1.4 times less). In the Amazon, 9 thousand square kilometers of forest burned in 2019 (7 times less). In California, just under 8 thousand square kilometers of forest burned in 2018 (8 times less).
Fig. 4 Smoke plume from fires in Australia, Himari-8 satellite image
At the moment, the consequences of the fires are being eliminated by the Australian Army, WWF, Greenpeace and other international organizations. It is also worth noting that the rains that have started have completely extinguished all the fires and normalized the temperature on the mainland.