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Natural hazards in Australia: extreme bushfire

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See www.depi.vic.gov.au/fire-and-emergencies/managing-risk-and-learning-about-managing-fire/bushfire-history. Accessed 4 February 2016.

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Acknowledgments

This paper was a result of collaboration through the ‘Trends and Extremes’ working group as part of the Australian Water and Energy Exchanges Initiative (OzEWEX). The authors are grateful to Brian Potter and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.

Author information

Correspondence to Jason J. Sharples.

Additional information

This article is part of a Special Issue on “The effect of historical and future climate changes on natural hazards in Australia” edited by Seth Westra, Chris White and Anthony Kiem.

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Sharples, J.J., Cary, G.J., Fox-Hughes, P. et al. Natural hazards in Australia: extreme bushfire. Climatic Change 139, 85–99 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1811-1

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Keywords

  • Regional Climate Model
  • Fire Regime
  • Fire Event
  • Large Fire
  • Fire Occurrence