(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.
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
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years
Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.
Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.
The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.
Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.
It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.
“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”
Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.
Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.
“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.
“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”
Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.
“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.
Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.
“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”
In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.
Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.
A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.