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Australia's New Inland Sea: Earth Image of the Week January 28, 2011
Satellite Image of southeast Australia
Volunteers have spent the past week piling tens of thousands of sandbags around Swan Hill, Victoria, a town of 10,000 people that lies in the water's path.
A shift in climate over the past two years has seen southeastern Australia go from a plague of firestorms sparked by the worst drought in a century to massive flooding that has created a vast “inland sea.”

During early February 2009, a series of 400 fast-moving bushfires killed 173 people in the country’s greatest loss of life ever from such conflagrations.

They occurred on the same day that several communities in the region experienced the hottest weather since record-keeping began.

In just under two years, Australia’s “big dry” has now been replaced by a fresh round of flooding brought on by some of the heaviest and most sustained rainfall on record.

While El Niño is blamed for producing the drought and heat responsible for the wildfires, the cold-water La Niña counterpart in the tropical Pacific has brought the recent floods in Queensland, which have spread southward into New South Wales and Victoria over the past week.

Many homes swamped by the expanding floods along the border of Victoria and New South Wales face being isolated for weeks, according to a report in The Australian.

The image of southeast Australia to the upper right was captured by NASA’s MODIS instrument orbiting aboard the Terra satellite on January 21, 2011.

The green patch north and east of Swan Hill, Victoria, represents massive flooding that is besieging that community, as well as others in the Murray River basin.

The enlarged view shows a comparison of the same terrain with a comparable image taken during other wildfires that erupted two years before 2009's deadly “Black Saturday” conflagrations.

The shades of green and dark blue in the latest image represent the lush vegetation and overflowing bodies of water brought on by recent rainstorms. The prevailing browns and reds in the January 2007 image reflect a far more arid landscape.

Image: NASA MODIS Rapid Response System