Exploring 167 years of vulnerability: An examination of extreme heat events in Australia 1844-2010

Lucinda Coates*, Katharine Haynes, James O'Brien, John McAneney, Felipe Dimer De Oliveira

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Citations (Scopus)
429 Downloads (Pure)


Despite their relative importance in terms of human mortality, extreme heat events have not attracted the same level of study compared with other natural hazards in regards to vulnerability and implications for emergency management and policy change. Definitional confusion and inconsistencies in defining heat related deaths over time have made it difficult to determine an absolute death toll. Notwithstanding these issues, this study employs PerilAUS - Risk Frontiers' database of natural hazard event impacts - in combination with official sources in an attempt to provide a lower-bound estimate of heat-associated deaths in Australia since European settlement. From 1844 to 2010, extreme heat events have been responsible for at least 5332 fatalities in Australia and, since 1900, 4555: more than the combined total of deaths from all other natural hazards. Over 30% of those deaths occurred in just nine events. Both deaths and death rates (per unit of population) fluctuate widely but show an overall decrease with time. The male to female death-rate ratio has fluctuated and approaches but does not reach equality in more recent times. In line with other studies, seniors have been the most vulnerable age group overall, with infants also over-represented. Policy implications in view of a warming climate and an ageing population are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-44
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014

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Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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