(TMU) — As Australia’s horrific bushfire crisis continues unabated, smoke plumes believed to cover an area greater than that of Europe have been created while glaciers in neighboring New Zealand have been turned black by soot from the fires.
In the meantime, nearly 500,000,000 animals have been killed while the human death toll has climbed to at least 17. Experts have warned of a broader humanitarian crisis looming over the country, fueling anger at the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
On Wednesday, experts noted that a massive plume of smoke spanning roughly 2.1 million square miles (5.5 million sq km) had begun drifting over the Pacific Ocean toward New Zealand, which BBC reports has been blanketed in smoke and haze from the Australia fires in recent days. The Guardian reports that vacationers have described the hazy skies in New Zealand as “sepia,” “orange” and “apocalyptic.”
Antti Lipponen, a research scientist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, wrote in a tweet that the smoke plume is well over four times the size of Alaska, 14 times the size of Japan, and roughly equal to the distance between Iceland and Turkey.
— Antti Lipponen (@anttilip) January 2, 2020
The smoke and soot have even stained New Zealand’s iconic white glaciers, turning them black and “caramelizing” the snow in a process that could further endanger glaciers already threatened by climate change. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote in a tweet that the impact of Australian ash on glaciers “is likely to accelerate melting.”
Snow and ice usually reflect the sun’s heat and slows melting while white. However, snow blackened by ash and dust rapidly absorbs heat and therefore melts at faster rates.
Huge smoke plume showing up on GOES-17 from the Australia fires.
Currently being wrapped up by a low pressure system over the Pacific. pic.twitter.com/OUwk0I4E8P
— Dakota Smith (@weatherdak) January 2, 2020
The environmental calamity has been stoked by a combination of extreme winds, record-shattering heat waves, and drought-parched forests, grasslands, and brush. Australia’s bushfires have also grown so monstrous that they are generating their own weather in the form of pyro-cumulonimbus clouds—or thunderstorms that create more fires—according to Victoria’s Bureau of Meteorology.
Weather forecasts have predicted continued withering hot conditions and fierce winds across southern Australia on Friday as well as dangerous bushfire conditions in eastern Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) on Saturday. Thousand of firefighters, including huge numbers of volunteers, have been fighting the over 100 fires in NSW and over 40 in Victoria.
Near Franz Josef glacier. The “caramelised” snow is caused by dust from the bushfires. It was white yesterday pic.twitter.com/Ryqq685Ind
— Fabulousmonster (@Rachelhatesit) December 31, 2019
The nightmarish nature of the crisis took a new form over the weekend as 4,000 people in the coastal town of Mallacoota, Victoria, fled to the shore and even into the water as the blaze threatened to consume their homes.
Tourist Kai Kirschbaum told ABC Australia:
“I think that was our biggest threat in terms of what are we doing with the children if we need to go in the water to protect ourselves given the fact that they are only 1, 3 and 5.
If you’re a good swimmer it doesn’t really matter if you have to be in the water for a longer time, but doing that with three kids that would have been, I think, a nightmare.”
In the meantime, ecologists are fearing a tremendous tragedy for wildlife as nearly 500 million mammals, reptiles and birds—including 8,000 koalas—are estimated to have been killed. The massive loss of life threatens to forever tip the balance for entire species of animals and plants.
Over 300 baby flying foxes were abandoned by their mothers who were trying to survive by any means, according to experts.
Australia’s bushland is home to a range of indigenous fauna such as kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and possums. Authorities have no exact figure on how many native animals have been killed in the bushfires but experts say it is likely to be in the millions https://t.co/NXoEkxAlxP pic.twitter.com/yP2VUYBLeS
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 30, 2019
Wildlife rescuer Jenny Packwood told the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Mothers are abandoning babies at two weeks after birth because there is no food for them. Last week we had 300 come in, and we’ve been flat out feeding since then.
I’ve never seen anything like this before—we’re calling it a starvation event.”
Species like bats also face the threat of local extinction from the massive obliteration of small creatures such as insects in wildfire-impacted regions, thre Independent reported.
Koala Crisis wrote on Facebook:
“Not one carer KC has spoken to has seen bees, insects, grubs, worms, snails, beetles, millipedes, for months. Nothing struggles through the dustbowls which are now covering millions of hectares in all states.
There’s no grass for the ’roos, no insects for the birds, the leaves on eucalypts are brittle, ensuring starvation for koalas, gliders, possums, birds, insects.”
The bushfires devastating Australia have been raging since September, laying waste to wildlife and private property alike. Experts are fearing that a humanitarian crisis is imminent as the country faces the worst fire season in recorded history with three more months of the summer season left.
Along with the fires, arid conditions due to a prolonged drought have wrought devastation on the livelihoods of farmers and local economies.
The Australian government, headed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has been accused of denying the realities of climate change despite its belated verbal acknowledgment that changing climate conditions have played a role in the crisis. The government has been accused of obstructing global summits on climate change and skirting its obligations under the 2015 Paris accord while doing little to curtail the country’s role as the world’s number one exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.
Australians’ anger toward the prime minister—who has derisively been nicknamed “ScoMo” or “Scummo”—was abundantly clear Thursday when he was forced to scrap a meet-and-greet with locals in a fire-scourged NSW town. As the beleaguered prime minister attempted to reassure residents, locals showered abuse on him.
The Guardian quoted residents cursing Morrison as “an idiot,” telling him that he’s “not welcome” and should “piss off” and not expect any future votes.
Scott Morrison forcing this woman to shake his hand, then ignoring her and walking away when she tells him she doesn’t want a handshake unless he gives more funding to the RFS, is fucking disgusting – even by his low standards. #bushfiresAustralia #auspol pic.twitter.com/LX6agg3S7G
— Brendan Bradford (@1bbradfo) January 2, 2020
Animals too badly burnt to be saved after horror bushfires
Vets now have a job of euthanising as hundreds of thousands of animals suffer from the bushfires, with entire species also under threat.
By Andrew Drummond, AAP and Marnie O’Neill - 03. January 2020
Tips to keep animals safe this bushfire season
Millions of animals are dead and hundreds of thousands more will perish over coming days as a result of killer bushfires terrorising southeast Australia.
Native wildlife and agricultural livestock are among the fatalities, with already-endangered species at greater risk of extinction.
The extent of the carnage may never be known.
“The fires will have killed millions of animals ... mammals, birds, reptiles,” Wildlife Victoria boss Megan Davidson said.
A number of Steve Shipton's cows lay dead after being killed in his paddock during a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: Sean Davey/AAPSource:AAP
And the threat is not over, with wildlife rescue groups likely to be helpless in many instances.
“It is largely a job of euthanasing at this stage, both livestock and wildlife,” Dr Davidson said.
“They are so severely burned that there is nothing better you can do than end their suffering.”
Revelations by University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman earlier this week that bushfires are likely to have killed almost 500 million animals since September made global headlines.
This morning Professor Dickman released a new statement stressing that number was extremely conservative and the true toll was likely to be far higher.
“This figure only relates to the state of NSW,” he said.
“Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes.
“The figure includes mammals, birds and reptiles and does not include insects, bats or frogs. The true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher than 480 million.”
In coming days more animals will die from starvation and heat stress as they battle to find food and shelter in their decimated habitat.
The nationally-endangered eastern bristlebird is one species of concern amid the fires which are straddling the NSW-Victorian border.
“There are only three populations in Australia and two are under threat,” The University of Melbourne’s Alan York said.
A juvenile kangaroo was caught in a fence trying to escape. Picture: Brad Fleet Source:News Corp Australia
One of the small birds’ habitats is near Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast and the other is Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland, where fires forced people on to the beach to escape flames.
“It is a bird with very limited flight capabilities so it’s very difficult for it to get out of the way of fire,” Prof York said.
The eastern bristlebird’s other habitat on the Gold Coast has also faced struggles in recent times but is not currently under threat from fire.
Despite the scale of destruction caused by the fires, both Prof York and Dr Davidson were hopeful that animal populations could recover.
“People get worried that species will become extinct but it’s more about population size and they will return,” he said.
“It is sometimes surprising how quickly things will recover - as soon as conditions are good again they can very rapidly breed up.”
Professor Davidson said everyone could help animals that were not only suffering from fires but from years of drought.
“It’s grim, but we don’t want people to despair.”
A young girl looks at the burnt body of dead kangaroo while walking her dog along a scorched property at Mallacoota. Picture: David CairdSource:News Corp Australia
HOW TO HELP THIRSTY WILDLIFE
* Distribute containers of water outdoors, being sure to throw in some sticks and leaves so that insects have something to cling to
* Swimming pool owners should add “climb-out points” so animals don’t drown
* Fruit tree owners should remove netting to share their produce
* When offering pellets and hay, be sure to spread the food out so that species have a lesser chance of being targeted by predators
READ MORE: Half a billion animals perish in bushfires