In January 2013, intense bushfires blazed in Tasmania, an island state of Australia. One of the hardest hit towns was Dunalley, a fishing village on the eastern coast. A blaze destroyed at least 80 homes—about 30 percent of the town— when it tore through the area on January 4, 2013. In the nearby village of Connellys Marsh, 40 percent of the buildings were destroyed. Primrose Sands lost several homes as well.
The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the charred landscape on January 14. Vegetation-covered land is red in the false-color image, which includes both visible and infrared light. Patches of unburned forest are bright red, in contrast with areas where flecks of light brown indicate some burning. The darkest brown areas are the most severely burned. Buildings, roads, and other developed areas appear light gray. Clouds are white.
Extreme heat and strong winds fueled the fires. Temperatures in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, soared to a record high of 41.8 degrees Celsius (107.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on January 4. The heat wave, like all extreme weather events, had its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there’s a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves and wildfires of this magnitude will occur.
- National Post (2013, Jan. 9) Terrified family clings to dock for hours as wildfire rips through town. Accessed Jan. 24, 2013.
- The Age (2013, Jan. 18) Tasmania fire survivors ready to rebuild. Accessed Jan. 24, 2013.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using data from the NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Adam Voiland.