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El Niño Watch: Why Bushfire Monitoring Is Crucial

Wednesday, 22 Mar '23

An El Niño watch has just been declared recently by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) in their latest update. As three years of La Niña comes to an end, what does this mean for Australia? It signals a major shift in the weather to come if an El Niño event were to occur. These could include reduced rainfall and increased temperatures which could have implications for agriculture, water resources, and public health, among other things.

The impacts of an El Niño event can be variable and difficult to predict, and an El Niño watch is not a guarantee that such an event will occur. However, it is important for individuals, communities, and organisations to monitor weather updates and prepare for potential impacts in the event that an El Niño does occur.

An Ocean-Atmosphere Phenomenon

El Niño and La Niña are two phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is a complex weather pattern that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean. El Niño refers to a warming of the ocean surface, while La Niña refers to a cooling of the same region. Both of these phenomena can have significant impacts on weather patterns around the world, including in Australia.

An El Niño watch means that conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean are showing signs of warming, which could potentially lead to an El Niño event in the coming months. This occurrence can be attributed to the substantial increase in sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, causing a shift in atmospheric circulation. This shift results in the weakening or reversal of the trade winds that typically blow from the east to the west across the body of water. Due to the warming of the ocean temperatures, there is a greater tendency for tropical rainfall and cloud development in these areas. The usual heavy rainfall that occurs in the northern parts of Australia is now going to be pulled away from the area and towards the Pacific basin.

Anticipating the Effects of El Niño

Reduced rainfalls and warmer temperatures are the tell-tale effects of El Niño. 

According to BOM, “El Niño years tend to see warmer-than-average temperatures across most of southern Australia, particularly during the second half of the year. In general, decreased cloud cover results in warmer-than-average daytime temperatures, particularly in the spring and summer months. Higher temperatures exacerbate the effect of lower rainfall by increasing evaporative demand.”

Due to reduced precipitation and rising maximum temperatures, the likelihood of experiencing high fire danger ratings and facing a significant fire danger season in southeastern Australia increases substantially after an El Niño year. This effect is especially pronounced when there is a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event occurring simultaneously.

Australia experienced its last El Niño in the years 2018 and 2019. It was identified as a main contributor to “Black Summer”, or the severe bushfire events during the 2019/20 season. The 2019/20 Australian black summer bushfires are said to have burnt an area of around 180,000 square kilometres with an economic cost amounting to the billions. BOM deemed it to be the most intense ever recorded in the country's history.

Mitigating Damages through Bushfire Monitoring

Australia is a country that is prone to bushfires due to its hot and dry climate, particularly during the summer months. Bushfires are a natural part of Australia's ecology and have been occurring for thousands of years. However, the severity and frequency of bushfires in Australia have been increasing in recent decades, partly due to climate change and other environmental factors. Bushfires can cause significant damage to property and the environment and majorly impact communities and ecosystems. 

To help manage the risk of bushfires, Australia has a range of policies and procedures in place, including fire prevention and preparedness measures, firefighting resources and training, and community education and awareness campaigns. Bushfire monitoring is a major part of Australia’s efforts.

Bushfire monitoring can happen during different stages of the incident. The three stages are pre-, during, and post-event. It is important to monitor all stages as it gives different information which are all significant in mitigating risks and damages, disaster response, and recovery and rehabilitation. 

Real-time monitoring for identification of fires is crucial for immediate response. Monitoring these areas before bushfires occur helps track possible hot spots for fires. With the upcoming hotter and dryer weather, the increased vegetation growth resulting from the three years of La Niña events provides more sources for fires to burn. It is now more important than ever to closely monitor these areas of the region.

Real-time monitoring is also a crucial aspect of bushfire management once a fire has started. By continuously tracking the progress of the fire, it is possible to gather valuable information about its behaviour and extent, which can be used to inform firefighting efforts.

Keeping track of the direction and speed of a bushfire can aid firefighters in anticipating where it might spread and deciding on the best ways to control or put out the flames. Additionally, monitoring the heat and intensity of the fire can help pinpoint areas that are especially at risk and assist in determining where resources should be deployed.

Real-time monitoring can also provide valuable data on how a bushfire is impacting the surrounding environment. This information can be used to evaluate the fire's overall ecological impact and guide decisions on how to restore and rehabilitate affected areas. Data on changes in air quality, temperature, and vegetation are particularly important in assessing the extent of the impact.

Real-Time Data with Esper and EarthTones

Real-time monitoring is an essential tool in bushfire management as it provides up-to-date information on the fire's behaviour, which can help reduce the risk of damage. EarthTones, Esper’s flagship product, can address the current data gaps in bushfire monitoring by providing high-quality, real-time data through the use of hyperspectral imagery.

Hyperspectral imagery captures data across a wide range of wavelengths, providing a more detailed view of the environment than traditional satellite or aerial imagery. This type of data can help to identify subtle changes in vegetation, temperature, and other environmental factors that may indicate the presence or spread of a fire.

By providing real-time access to this data, you can make more informed decisions with EarthTones on where to allocate resources, how to direct firefighting efforts, and how to coordinate with other agencies and stakeholders. This can help to improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of bushfire management, reducing the risk of damage to lives, property, and the environment.

Overall, the combination of real-time monitoring and hyperspectral imagery provided by EarthTones has the potential to revolutionize bushfire management. But the application of EarthTones is not limited to bushfire management. it can be used for any time-critical incidents. EarthTones will be able to provide critical information to emergency responders and helping to mitigate the impact on communities and ecosystems.

There is never a wrong time to elevate your real-time monitoring efforts by teaming up with Esper. By signing up here, you'll receive first access to the most up-to-date and precise data, enabling you to stay ahead in reducing the impact of natural disasters.