(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.
As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists
The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.
However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.
While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.
The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.
The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes – but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.
“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.
To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.
However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.
These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.
The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.
Japan Says Dumping Fukushima Radioactive Water in Pacific Ocean is Now “Unavoidable”
While Japan last month marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami with solemn ceremonies, the government has also been stressing the successes of its recovery efforts in the country’s northeast.
In truth, however, the country is still coping with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which has already cost Japan trillions of yen and whose exclusion zone will require up to 40 more years to fully rehabilitate.
And with contaminated water continuing to build up at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government must finally begin dumping it into the Pacific Ocean.
With nuclear waste and fuel rods still contaminating the area, over one million tons of radioactive waste water continue to seep from the facility, according to The Japan Times, forcing authorities into what Suga describes as the “unavoidable” position of having to dump the water.
Officials claim that the water would be purified to the maximum extent possible, but environmentalist groups like Greenpeace warn that the water contains hazardous material that could damage human DNA and the health of marine life.
Fishers also fear that consumers will refuse to buy fish caught in contaminated waters, worsening their plight amid a restriction of imports from Fukushima prefecture imposed by 15 countries and regions.
Regardless, authorities argue they must deal with the cards that have been dealt.
“What to do with the [treated] water is a task that the government can no longer put off without setting a policy,” Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said on Wednesday.
Suga is expected to formally decide on the course of action by next Tuesday. If he proceeds, authorities will dilute tritium to 2.5 percent of the maximum concentration allowed by the country before it is dumped.
But while Japanese officials say that the water will be safe, it remains an open question whether people will trust their word.
Crowds Flock to Lava-Spewing Volcanoes in Italy, Iceland and Guatemala to Get Closer View
The year 2021 has so far been a particularly active time for volcanic eruptions. In February and March, three spectacular volcanic eruptions have occurred: the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland, Mount Etna in Italy and Pacaya in Guatemala.
In each case, the eruptions have drawn large crowds of curious onlookers and sightseers.
In vivid video captured at Fagradalsfjall volcano on April 1, lava can be seen being spewed as amazed onlookers can be heard in the background. According to local reports, tens of thousands of people have been drawn to the area to view the eruption.
Iceland’s authorities are not anticipating evacuations due to the mile-and-a-half distance from the nearest road.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and as of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns,” said Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. “We ask people to keep away from the immediate area and stay safe.”
Italy and Guatemala have also experienced a few volcanic eruptions this year.
On March 7, Sicilian villages were showered with ash and lava stone following the eruption of Mount Etna, which began its highly active phase in February.
The Pacaya volcano lying 30 miles south of the Guatemalan capital has also been extremely active since February.
Pacaya’s peak typically attracts tourists, but hikes are temporarily on hold due to the uptick in activity. Pacaya has a clear view of the nearby Volcano of Fire, whose lava flows in a 2018 eruption killed at least 110 people and left rougly 200 missing.
While volcano tourism provides a steady source of income for villages like nearby San Francisco de Sales, locals must balance this with the need to ensure their long-term safety.
So far, however, Pacaya has not yet injured locals.
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