The Devastating Impact of the Australian Bushfires
The Australian bushfires have wrought sheer devastation to the continent, causing record-setting damage across the country. Firefighters continue to battle wildfires amid a prolonged drought, hot temperatures, and strong winds, all of which have created ideal conditions for the flames to spread.
The bushfires are an untold tragedy for millions of Australians, as they continue to deal with the loss of land, homes, and animals. Here is a list of the short-term and long-term effects of the bushfires on the future of Australia.
Loss of biodiversity
The rapid spread of fires has left little time for animals to safely evacuate, causing the deaths of an estimated 1 billion animals so far. This number does not include frogs or invertebrates like insects, earthworms, and snails, which could be dying by the trillions. Relief crews attempting to rescue stranded animals amongst the fires have reported seeing thousands of carcasses of koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and birds. A team of scientists is saying that the fires have pushed at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction.
Smoke is spreading around the globe, increasing carbon dioxide emissions
Massive plumes of smoke from fires is making its way around the planet, releasing aerosols into the upper atmosphere and increasing carbon dioxide emissions. NASA satellites recorded aerosol values at some of the highest levels ever, showing the smoke sitting in the upper layers of the atmosphere. The fires have released enough carbon dioxide equal to Australia’s annual human-caused emissions, some 400 million tons.
Tons of ash from the fires have ended up in areas like school playgrounds, backyards, beaches, and freshwater stores. Bushfire ash contains nitrogen and phosphorous, two important nutrients that can stimulate the growth of cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae. These algae can produce harmful chemicals that can negatively impact water quality. In an environment that allows it to thrive, blooms of blue-green algae can choke off marine ecosystems, ruin freshwater supplies, and kill of sea-life.
The Guardian reported that more than half of all Australians have been directly affected by the bushfire crisis, with millions suffering health effects. As a result of intense smoke and air pollution, millions of Australians are reporting to hospitals suffering from respiratory problems. Inhalation of smoke can lead to a number of health issues, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, asthma, and even premature death.
The bushfires have blazed through wide swaths of pasture, decimating livestock and razing through vineyards and grow yards. Reports indicate that Australia’s dairy supply will be hit the hardest, suffering from a massive loss of farmland and infrastructure. The loss will have a major impact on food security in the region, and a time to recovery will likely be a long and arduous process.