By now the whole world is aware of just how destructive the fires in Australia have been – we are talking next level, apocalyptic fires that have been record-setting as they cover the country in a thick blanket of smoke. And over it all, the skies of Australia have been bright red.
Images of the destruction in Australia have surfaced across Reddit and Twitter which show the country bathed in a red demonic glow. And the evil façade is fitting as the country has been battling these fires the whole of December to the point that some states have declared a state of emergency. In New South Wales – the state that has the most fires – 12 people have been killed and more than 900 homes destroyed.
One person wrote on Twitter, “Hell has descended on Victoria as the world literally turns red.”
Another added, “This isn’t some dystopian novel. This is real life.”
As for the cause of the fires themselves, the answer is simple and what many of us have feared: they are part of a global trend that predicts an increase in extreme weather. This means that for places which are prone to wildfires, we can expect to see more fires that are stronger, last longer, and cause more destruction. In fact, this past summer in California, an estimated 253,321 acres were burned. And in Indonesia, the country was also ablaze in September 2019 and its skies were red as well.
So what causes the skies to go red during a fire? The answer is also simple as the smoky haze that is left behind changes the way sunlight is distributed across the sky.
The red sky effect comes from the number of micro-particles that are present in the atmosphere.
People and animals are dying, houses are being lost at an unprecedented rate. and our Prime Minister refuses to call it a national emergency and the Murdoch press is trying to underplay it.
— jacob! (@SleeplessNites_) December 31, 2019
When the sun shines down, it’s basking us in radiation. If that radiation is visible to us, it’s because of the wavelength that is within the visible spectrum. Colors with the longest wavelengths range from red to orange, as opposed to those that are blue and purple being the shortest wavelengths.
During the day, the sun’s powerful rays pass through the earth’s atmosphere, where that light encounters obstacles, such as water vapor, aerosols, dust, or molecules such as nitrogen and oxygen. During a clear day, light at the blue wavelength tends to more readily bounce off nitrogen and oxygen particles which cause the sky to have blue light – an effect called Rayleigh scattering.
When wildfires are brought into the equation, sunlight then has to make the move through a dense and smoky haze. Those slightly larger smoke particles are more likely to allow red light through than blue light. This is why in September, the same effect was visible in Indonesia as Koh Tieh Yong at the Singapore University of Social Sciences explained to the BBC.
hate to inconvenience youse but THIS is what australia looks like today, no filter, no effect, just australian bush burning. this isn’t some dystopian novel, this is real life, this is AUSTRALIAN LIVES. #AustralianFires pic.twitter.com/q4SA5BhxKR
— katey 🌙 hoshboo (@tiny_kwannie) December 31, 2019
“There are also smaller particles, around 0.05 micrometers or less, that don’t make up a lot of the haze but are still somewhat more abundant during a haze period, he said.
He added, “This is enough to give an extra tendency to scatter red light more in the forward and backward directions than blue light – and that is why would you see more red than blue.”
While the red sky effect is easily to explain, it’s much harder to deal with. Australia has come under a lot of criticism of its climate policy in face of the continuing fires.
This fire season was preceded by Australia’s driest spring on record, and the country’s hottest day on record in December was when 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit was the record. The previous record was only 24 hours prior to that.
The Australian government is already being forced to face the results of climate change as there are also predictions that the global climate crisis is going to lead to an increase of “megafires” and other natural disasters.
Now that we are in a new decade, it is more important than ever for all world leaders to come together and listen to what scientists have been saying for years – this climate crisis needs to be solved!
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.