(TMU) — Australia’s authorities urged nearly a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes Friday as fierce wind and soaring heat slammed the country’s fire-ravaged southeast regions, causing huge blazes to merge into massive “megafires”—including one measuring over 1.5 million acres (over 630 thousand hectares), roughly eight times as large as New York City.
The massive flare-up came when a week of relative calm halted Thursday night as the heat, dry conditions, and erratic winds reaching over 55 miles (90 km) caused six bushfires in two Australian states to merge, resulting in the formation of two emergency-level “mega-blazes,” reports Wildfire Today.
Authorities are warning that the day will be “very, very challenging” despite the presence of rainfall in some regions, according to Reuters.
Military personnel stand ready to intervene in case the bushfire reaches extreme levels, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. However, authorities aren’t taking any risks, and 240,000 people in Victoria have been notified via emergency text to flee. In the meantime, residents of high-risk regions in New South Wales (NSW) and South Australia have also been told to consider evacuation.
All hail our new mega-blaze overlords! pic.twitter.com/KSxgF3rgOP
— thesaurically depleted pup (@LizDolphinfluff) January 10, 2020
Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said in a press conference that residents should remain on high alert. He said:
“Even with rain in Melbourne, even with forecast better conditions next week, there is a long way to go in what has been an unprecedented fire event…and, of course, we know that we have many weeks of the fire season to run …The next few hours are going to be very, very challenging.”
Since the fire crisis broke out in September, at least 27 people have been killed and countless others forced to evacuate—often repeatedly—as the historic wave of bushfires ripped through 25.5 million acres (10.3 million hectares) of land, an area equal to the size of South Korea.
The NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed Friday that a total of 2,000 homes have been destroyed since the crisis began, including 1,079 since January 1.
While the winds are expected to subside on Saturday, the bushfires have proven capable of generating their own brutal weather conditions in the form of pyro-cumulonimbus clouds, or dry thunderstorms that create more fires and add an unpredictable dynamic to the spread of the fires. NASA describes the phenomenon as the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds.”
Authorities warn that the huge fires, stoked by a continuing heatwave, winds, and arid conditions resulting from a three-year drought, could persist for months until the country sees substantial rainfall, which remains a remote possibility in the next few months.
So far, the fires have emitted 400 megatons of carbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the European Union’s Copernicus monitoring program said.
Wildfire risk increases with global warming.
Megafires are accelerated by high temperatures & drought. And they are extremely challenging to contain, usually only limited by the amount of available burnable vegetation. #ClimateCrisis https://t.co/ZTfyb07V3x
— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) January 10, 2020
Massive smoke plumes visible from space have also drifted across the Pacific, affecting regions as distant as South America and even potentially Antarctica, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization.
Ecologists at the University of Sydney estimate that over 1 billion animals have been killed in the bushfires, potentially destroying ecosystems and forever tipping the balance for whole species.
The nightmarish extent of Australia’s wildfires is clear when comparing the blaze with other recent catastrophes. Since the Australian bushfire crisis broke out, the amount of burnt terrain in the island continent is more than twice that in the similarly horrific fires in Brazil, California, and Indonesia combined.
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.