(TMU) — Australia is beginning to receive its first significant rainfall in months as a low-pressure system sweeps in from the east bringing a much-needed respite to parched and fire-ravaged regions across the country.
On Thursday morning, downpours already began extinguishing 32 fires across the hard-hit state of New South Wales (NSW) with the number of blazes dropping from 120 to 88, the Daily Mail reports.
Communities in NSW and Victoria are both expected to see a healthy weekend of rain from Thursday into the weekend with forecasters saying that heavy downpours and thunderstorms in the region are likely.
The Bureau of Meteorology said that it expects anywhere from over an inch (30mm) to over 3 inches of rain through the weekend in eastern Australia.
According to Sky News, a month’s worth of rain fell over Melbourne in only a few hours.
Earlier this week, the NSW Rural Fire Service tweeted that the rainfall would be “all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one.”
If this @BOM_NSW rainfall forecast comes to fruition then this will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed. #NSWRFS #nswfires pic.twitter.com/R9VfD0bqu2
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 12, 2020
NSW Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd said:
“It’s the most positive forecast the RFS has had in months and will give crews a chance to regroup and work on containment lines.“
However, due to an extended drought period this weekend’s rain is unlikely to put out all of the fires which authorities have warned could continue raging thru March.
The bureau also warned that while the rain can help with the fires the risk of other calamities has increased. Bureau meteorologist Sarah Scully said Wednesday:
“Hopefully some of this heavy rainfall will fall over fire sites and help control or even extinguish fires.
But it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because heavy rainfall and gusty thunderstorms bring the potential for flash flooding, particularly in the burnt-out areas of NSW and Victoria which are now vulnerable to landslips and trees coming down.”
The hit & miss nature of #thunderstorms means it's difficult to forecast exactly where the heaviest rain will be—some parts of #bushfire & #drought affected eastern Australia could see 50–100 mm over the next few days; while others may see very little https://t.co/T7MYuIdxkO pic.twitter.com/zgmiBmqcIG
— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) January 15, 2020
The rain could also bring a new calamity to the country by washing toxic ash into waterways potentially leading to mass fish deaths and contaminating the drinking water supplies for millions of people.
Prof Stuart Khan, an environmental engineer and water expert at the University of New South Wales, told the Guardian:
“We are in a vulnerable position with all that ash sitting on a catchment that’s unstable and prone to erosion that could include landslides and trees being dislodged.
We’re not expecting extreme rainfall, but if any places do and they’re areas that have been burned, then we’d expect ash and soil running into waterways.”
Since the fire crisis broke out in September, at least 28 people have been killed and countless others forced to evacuate—sometimes more than once—as the unprecedented wave of bushfires swept across the country. The fires have consumed upwards of 25.5 million acres (10.3 million hectares) of land, an area equal to the size of South Korea.
Over 2,000 homes have also been destroyed during the crisis with more than half being destroyed by the nightmarish blaze since January 1.
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.