Bushfires are one of the most frequent natural hazards experienced in Australia. Fires play an important role in shaping the landscape and its ecological dynamics, but may also have devastating effects that cause human injuries and fatalities, as well as broad-scale environmental damage. While there has been considerable effort to quantify changes in the occurrence of bushfire in Australia, a comprehensive assessment of the most extreme bushfire cases, which exact the greatest economic and environmental impacts, is lacking. In this paper we reflect upon recently developed understanding of bushfire dynamics to consider (i) historical changes in the occurrence of extreme bushfires, and (ii) the potential for increasing frequency in the future under climate change projections. The science of extreme bushfires is still a developing area, thus our conclusions about emerging patterns in their occurrence should be considered tentative. Nonetheless, historical information on noteworthy bushfire events suggests an increased occurrence in recent decades. Based on our best current understanding of how extreme bushfires develop, there is strong potential for them to increase in frequency in the future. As such there is a pressing need for a greater understanding of these powerful and often destructive phenomena.
Fig. 3 a Number of gridcell-days per decade with the continuous Haines index ≥10, calculated from reanalysis
driven NARCliM simulations for the satellite era (1980s onwards). R1, R2 and R3 correspond to each regional
climate model; b Observed and projected number of gridcell-days with the continuous Haines index ≥10,
calculated from the NARCliM regional projection ensemble for 20 year periods. R1, R2 and R3 correspond to
the means for each regional climate model.
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Last updated 29 November 2013