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Australia’s future natural hazard risks examined

A new study of Australian natural hazards paints a picture of increasing risk of heatwaves and extreme bushfires as this century progresses, but with much more uncertainty about the future of storms and rainfall. Published today (Tuesday 8 November) in a special issue of the international journal Climatic Change, the study documents the historical record and projected change of seven natural hazards in Australia: flood; storms (including wind and hail); coastal extremes; drought; heatwave; bushfire; and frost.

This special issue represents a major collaboration of 47 scientists and eleven universities through the Australian Water and Energy Exchange Research Initiative, an Australian research community program. The report's many authors were from the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, Australian National University, Curtin University, Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of Western Australia, University of Adelaide, University of Newcastle, University of New South Wales, University of Tasmania, University of Western Australia and University of Wollongong.

The analyses aim to disentangle the effects of climate variability and change on hazards from other factors such as deforestation, increased urbanisation, people living in more vulnerable areas, and higher values of infrastructure.

Some of the key findings from the studies include:

  • Historical information on the most extreme bushfires - so-called ‘mega fires’ - suggests an increased occurrence in recent decades with strong potential for them to increase in frequency in the future. Over the past decade major bushfires at the margins of Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne have burnt more than a million hectares of forests and woodlands and resulted in the loss of more than 200 lives and 4000 homes.
  • Heatwaves are Australia's most deadly natural hazard, causing 55 percent of all natural disaster related deaths and increasing trends in heatwave intensity, frequency and duration are projected to continue throughout the 21st century.
  • The costs of flooding have increased significantly in recent decades, but factors behind this increase include changes in reporting mechanisms, population, land-use, infrastructure as well as extreme rainfall events. The physical size of floods has either not changed at all, or even decreased in many parts of the country.


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