Thumbnail Image

Cascading hazards in the aftermath of Australia's 2019/2020 black summer wildfires

Kemter, Matthias; Fischer, M.; Luna, Lisa Victoria; Schönfeldt, Elisabeth; Vogel, Johannes; Banerjee, A.; Korup, Oliver; Thonicke, Kirsten

FG Ökohydrologie & Landschaftsbewertung

Following an unprecedented drought, Australia's 2019/2020 “Black Summer” fire season caused severe damage, gravely impacting both humans and ecosystems, and increasing susceptibility to other hazards. Heavy precipitation in early 2020 led to flooding and runoff that entrained ash and soil in burned areas, increasing sediment concentration in rivers, and reducing water quality. We exemplify this hazard cascade in a catchment in New South Wales by mapping burn severity, flood, and rainfall recurrence; estimating changes in soil erosion; and comparing them with river turbidity data. We show that following the extreme drought and wildfires, even moderate rain and floods led to undue increases in soil erosion and reductions in water quality. While natural risk analysis and planning commonly focuses on a single hazard, we emphasize the need to consider the entire hazard cascade, and highlight the impacts of ongoing climate change beyond its direct effect on wildfires.