(TMU) — Australia’s government has announced that it would call up 3,000 military reservists to confront an unprecedented bushfire crisis that is producing nightmarish “firenados”—cyclonic fire-tornadoes—and conditions that some are comparing to the aftermath of nuclear warfare.
On Saturday, beleaguered Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to reassure the country’s population that his government would take unprecedented measures to contain the fires, which have raged since September. According to AFP, Morrison said:
“Today’s decision puts more boots on the ground, puts more planes in the sky, puts more ships at sea.”
The addition of 3,000 reservists to firefighting efforts, which have already seen the deployment of roughly 2,000 military personnel, amounts to what authorities say is most likely the largest maritime rescue operation in Australia’s history, reports the New York Times. Military aircraft, naval ships, and other materiel will also be made available to assist evacuation and firefighting efforts.
Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said:
“The government has not taken this decision lightly … It is the first time that reserves have been called out in this way in living memory.”
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—dry thunderstorms that create more fires—according to Victoria’s Bureau of Meteorology. Fire-generated thunderstorms have appeared over the fires in two different locations. NASA describes them as the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds.”
The #AustralianBushfires are so intense they are creating fire-induced thunderstorms capable of starting new fires through lightning, lofting of embers and generation of powerful wind outflows. Aptly named #pyrocumulonimbus @cnni @CNN @CNNweather @CopernicusEU @BOM_au pic.twitter.com/vIdr89dD84
— Derek Van Dam (@VanDamCNN) January 2, 2020
The storms have further introduced an unpredictable dynamic to the spread of fires and rapid, erratic changes, CNN reports. Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett told Australia’s ABC:
“The prediction of fire weather in terms of wind is critical and when you’ve got a highly variable wind environment as you do with a thunderstorm, if you have that in the fire environment, those winds become very, very difficult to predict.”
The dry thunderstorms have also triggered cyclonic fire-tornadoes, or “firenados,” which have ripped through arid regions of southern Australia in recent days.
Incredible footage of a so-called "fire twister" on #KangarooIsland has revealed the intensity of the flames burning near the Ravine Des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area. 🌪️
— ABC Adelaide (@abcadelaide) January 3, 2020
On Monday, firefighter Samuel McPaul was killed in a “truly horrific” incident when extreme weather produced by the fire lifted his 12-ton fire truck into the air and dumped it on its roof. Two other firefighters on the scene are being treated for serious burns due to the “freakish” weather incident.
Shane Fitzsimmons, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner, was visibly shaken when he announced how the truck was flipped in what he described as a “pyro-convective line” of “cyclonic type winds.” He said:
“The local crews that were able to catch up with him in the field at the accident scene describe what they experienced as truly horrific. They described it as an extraordinary wind event, describing it as a fire tornado.
We have a completely devastated family, a devastated local community at what just has been an extraordinary loss.”
As of Saturday, over 23 lives have been claimed by the deadly fires, which have burned over 12 million acres of land, an area larger than Switzerland. On Saturday, Fire Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales (NSW), Shane Fitzsimmons, confirmed to reporters that over 148 active fires continue to burn in his state, 12 of which are at emergency levels. Meanwhile, in Victoria, authorities say that 50 active fires continue to burn.
This was over Blowering pic.twitter.com/gf63vviFSx
— Merrin (@merxplat) January 4, 2020
Ecologists fear that nearly 500 million mammals, reptiles and birds—including 8,000 koalas—are estimated to have been killed, although the current death toll is impossible to calculate. The massive loss of life threatens to forever tip the balance for entire species of animals and plants on an island continent where 87 percent of wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning it can only be found on Australia.
Kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, wombats, potoroos, bandicoots, echidnas, possums, and other species all have populations that live in regions currently being devastated by the fires—and because the fires have extended to the wetlands, dry eucalyptus forests, and even rainforests, the animals have no place to find refuge.
Jim Radford, a research fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne, told the Times:
“We’ve never seen fires like this, not to this extent, not all at once, and the reservoir of animals that could come and repopulate the areas, they may not be there.”
Many experts are using terms to describe the crisis that would have previously been unimaginable. New Zealand Herald reports that Andrew Constance, the transport minister in NSW, told ABC radio:
“I’ve got to be honest with you, this isn’t a bushfire, it’s an atomic bomb.
It’s indescribable the hell it’s caused and the devastation it’s caused.”
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.