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Extreme bushfires increasing in number and intensity

2 July 2024

Extreme bushfires have more than doubled in frequency and intensity over the past two decades, according to a global study from the University of Tasmania. Published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the research reveals that six of the past seven years have been among the most extreme on record for wildfires.

Dr Calum Cunningham, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania and lead author of the study, said the findings are alarming. “This study provides concrete evidence of a worrying trend. The intensity and frequency of these bushfires are increasing at an alarming rate, directly linked to the escalating effects of climate change.”

Using 21 years of satellite data, the research team, including Professor David Bowman and Dr Grant Williamson, identified intense bushfire events by measuring the combined heat energy from fires each day. 

The study shows that not only have the number of extreme bushfires more than doubled between 2003 and 2023, but the average intensity of the 20 most extreme bushfires each year has more than doubled during this time. “The impact of these extreme events is devastating, not only for natural ecosystems but also for human populations. These fires release significant carbon emissions, threatening to create a vicious cycle that further accelerates global warming,” Dr Cunningham said.

The extreme bushfires are increasing fastest in the boreal and temperate conifer forests of North America and Russia. Hotspots of intense bushfires were also recorded in Australia, southern Africa, Mediterranean Europe, and South America.

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Source: University of Tasmania

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