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Extensive damage and fossil fuels from Australia’s black summer bushfires | Illawarra Mercury


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Australia is still playing catch up trying to reduce its fossil fuel emissions, two years after the devastating black summer bushfires along Australia’s east coast. University of Wollongong researchers contributed to an international paper published in AGU Advances on December 9, which found the bushfires combined with drought released an amount of carbon that is nearly double Australia’s annual fossil fuel emissions. Researchers, including from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the United States, examined the long-term effects of the extreme drought and raging bushfires on Australia’s carbon cycle. Using three satellites (Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 2, TROPOMI, and MODIS), along with UOW’s atmospheric gas measuring instrument, positioned at the Wollongong campus, the researchers tracked the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide omitted by the bushfires, and the process of photosynthesis and regrowth in areas impacted by drought and bushfires. Read more: Stress builds on Illawarra GPs as pandemic swells workload Dr Nicholas Deutscher, from UOW’s Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry, said the drought that preceded the bushfires had laid the groundwork for the unprecedented bushfires that would burn for months as 2019 gave way to 2020. “The conditions prior to the bushfires were so dry. Droughts suppress photosynthesis, reducing the amount of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere, which meant that carbon uptake had already been disrupted by the time the bushfires occurred,” Dr Deutscher said. “Bushfires release CO2 into the atmosphere through combustion. The immense amount of carbon dioxide that was released during the bushfires was more than an entire year of fossil fuel emissions. “One other thing we can conclude is that bushfires do not appear to be net-neutral from a greenhouse gas perspective, which contradicts many earlier and popular opinions.” Read more: Cut the aggro: Illawarra paramedics call for calm this Christmas Dr Brendan Byrne, a postdoctoral fellow at JPL and paper lead researcher, said the new satellite measurements allowed the researchers to track the carbon cycle response from space, and demonstrate that cooler conditions are necessary to enable the environment to recover from such events. Researchers, including UOW’s Senior Professor David Griffith, Professor Clare Murphy (Paton-Walsh), Dr Voltaire Velazco, and Dr Nicholas Jones, estimate it will take 20 years for Australia’s East Coast ecosystems to make a full recovery from the bushfires, a timeline that would be extended if more bushfires were to occur during that period. The findings highlighted the ability to use multiple satellites to track the carbon cycle process from space, supported by on-the-ground measuring instruments. The Illawarra Mercury newsroom is funded by our readers. You can subscribe to support our journalism here. Sign up for breaking news emails below …

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