The air quality in Melbourne was classified as the “worst in the world” Tuesday due to thick smoke from the state’s bushfires.
In the city center, air quality reached “hazardous” levels in the early hours of the morning as winds carried smoke down from bushfires in the state’s north-east, according to data from the Environment Protection Authority's AirWatch website.
"Overnight for Melbourne, it did reach the worst in the world,” the state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, told reporters, according to the Financial Review. “Those conditions overnight are obviously when there are cooler temperatures, and the particulate matter can settle very low to the ground.”
Sutton added that warmer temperatures throughout the day would lift the matter, in turn, improving the air quality.
The air quality rating has now been marked down to “very poor.”
The smoke triggered fire alarms across the city, forced pools and beaches to close, saw famous landmarks disappear under the haze, and required horse races to be canceled.
Games at the Australian Open were also canceled and delayed after serious concerns arose about player welfare following a haunting coughing fit by Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic.
Vulnerable groups — including the elderly, pregnant women, children under 14 years of age, and individuals with pre-existing respiratory issues — were urged to take precautions and only venture outside if absolutely necessary.
Awful scenes in Melbourne.— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 14, 2020
Dalila Jakupovic has abandoned her #AusOpen qualifying match after suffering a coughing fit while playing in thick smoke caused by the #AustralianFires. pic.twitter.com/WAJv6TzTjW
Bushfires have now been raging across Victoria, and much of Australia, for weeks.
Five people in the state have died, and over 900 homes and structures have been destroyed. Nationally, these figures sit at 29 and over 2,600, respectively.
The city of Brisbane, on Australia’s east coast, Australia’s capital city Canberra, and its largest city, Sydney, have all also been home to the world’s worst air in the past few months.
Scientists say the link between human-driven climate change and increasingly severe bushfires is “well-established.”
Stefan Rahmstorf, a lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, said Australia’s recent record-breaking heat and dry conditions have undeniably compounded the current bushfires.
"Due to enhanced evaporation in warmer temperatures, the vegetation and the soils dry out more quickly,” Rahmstorf told news publication, Time. “So even if the rainfall didn’t change, just the warming in itself would already cause drying of vegetation and therefore increased fire risk.”
Despite 180 fires still burning throughout Victoria and New South Wales, rain is expected to lift the smoke haze Wednesday.