Jan 2, 2020

Australia's wildfires cause New Zealand glaciers to turn brown

The sun rises through the smoke from Australia's bushfires over New Brighton Beach in Christchurch, New Zealand on Wednesday. Photo: Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Australia's wildfires are so intense that smoke from the blazes has traveled over 1,200 miles to blanket parts of New Zealand's South Island, and images show it's turned the country's white glaciers in the Southern Alps brown.

Why it matters: Monash University professor Andrew Mackintosh, the former director of the Antarctic Research Centre, said in almost 20 years of studying the glaciers, he'd "never seen such a quantity of dust transported across the Tasman," and he estimated the bushfires could potentially "increase this season's glacier melt by 20–30%," per the Guardian.

What they're saying: "It is quite common for dust to be transported to New Zealand glaciers, but I would say that the amount of transport right now is pretty phenomenal – I don't think I've ever seen anything like it," Mackintosh told the Guardian. "It is concerning to me to see so much material being deposited on the glaciers."

  • Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke tweeted her concern about the effects of the smoke, ash and dust on the glaciers.
"How one country's tragedy has spillover effects: Australian bushfires have created haze in New Zealand with particular impact on the south of the South Island yesterday & now spreading more widely. Impact of ash on glaciers is likely to accelerate melting."

The big picture: New Zealand's MetService said the smoke could "clearly be seen over the lower South Island," with visibility in the smoke haze as low as low as six miles in the worst affected areas.

  • By Thursday afternoon local time, much of the smoke had dispersed but sunset "may still have a tinge of orange" to it in some parts of the country, the national forecaster said in a tweet.

Go deeper: Australia fires: Race to evacuate thousands before conditions worsen

Go deeper

Australia fires: Race to evacuate thousands before conditions worsen

Cars line up to leave the town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Australian authorities are racing to evacuate thousands of people stranded in the states of New South Wales and Victoria before high temperatures and strong winds return — with the military helping people escape the deadly wildfires by air and sea.

The latest: Victoria's Premier Dan Andrews declared a state of disaster for six local government areas and the Alpine Resorts overnight — the first time ever in the state. NSW is declaring a seven-day state of emergency, effective Friday morning (local time), state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. It's NSW's third state of emergency during this bushfire season.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 2, 2020

Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Orroral Valley fire has burned through nearly 25% of the district that's home to Australia's capital, News.com.au reports, after ACT Emergency Controller Georgeina Whelan said the fire was rapidly growing into the south east on Saturday.

The latest: The Orroral fire grew from 81,544 acres to at least 129,073 acres on Saturday, based on Whelan's initial statement, and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's following estimate. Whelan said the Orroral fire is expected to move "well into" New South Wales, which creates potential for it to reach and merge with other bushfires in the area.

New Zealand volcanic eruption: What you need to know

A family returns from the Frigate HMNZS Wellington from where they observed a minute's silence near Whakaari/White Island in the nearby town of Whakatāne, New Zealand. Photo: John Borren/Getty Images

The death toll from New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption has risen to 21. American man Pratap "Paul" Singh, 49, died of his injuries in an Auckland hospital, police confirmed in a statement Thursday.

The latest: Singh sustained burns to 55% of his body in the Dec. 9 eruption, his family said in a statement released by police. He was on the island with his American wife, Pratap "Mary" Singh, who suffered burns to 72% of her body and who died of her injuries Dec. 22. They're survived by an 11-year-old son and 6-year-old twin daughters.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 30, 2020