New technique could help authorities conduct triage in multiple-blaze scenarios
An interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of California, Irvine has developed a new technique for predicting the final size of a wildfire from the moment of ignition.
Built around a machine learning algorithm, the model can help in forecasting whether a blaze is going to be small, medium or large by the time it has run its course – knowledge useful to those in charge of allocating scarce firefighting resources. The researchers’ work is highlighted in a study published today in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.
“A useful analogy is to consider what makes something go viral in social media,” said lead author Shane Coffield, a UCI doctoral student in Earth system science. “We can think about what properties of a specific tweet or post might make it blow up and become really popular – and how you might predict that at the moment it’s posted or right before it’s posted.”
He and his colleagues applied that thinking to a hypothetical situation in which dozens of fires break out simultaneously. It sounds extreme, but this scenario has become all too common in recent years in parts of the western United States as climate change has resulted in hot and dry conditions on the ground that can put a region at high risk of ignition.
“Only a few of those fires are going to get really big and account for most of the burned area, so we have this new approach that’s focused on identifying specific ignitions that pose the greatest risk of getting out of control,” Coffield said.
The team used Alaska as a study area for the project because the state has been plagued over the past decade by a rash of concurrent fires in its boreal forests, threatening human health and vulnerable ecosystems.
At the core of the UCI scientists’ model is a “decision tree” algorithm. By feeding it climate data and crucial details about atmospheric conditions and the types of vegetation present around the starting point of a fire, the researchers could predict the final size of a blaze 50 percent of the time. A key variable is the vapor pressure deficit – just how little moisture there is in the area – during the first six days of a fire’s existence. A second major consideration for Alaskan forests is the percentage of trees of the black spruce variety.
“Black spruce, which are dominant in Alaska, have these long, droopy branches that are designed – from an evolutionary perspective – to wick up fire,” said co-author James Randerson, professor and Ralph J. & Carol M. Cicerone Chair in Earth System Science at UCI. “Their seeds are adapted to do well in a post-fire environment, so their strategy is to kill off everything else around them during a fire to reduce competition for their offspring.”
He said Coffield was able to show that the fraction of black spruce within a 2.5-mile radius of the ignition site is an important factor in judging how big a fire will grow.
One advantage of this new method is speed, Coffield said. The algorithm “learns” with each new data point and can quickly figure out the critical thresholds for identifying large fires. It’s possible for people to do this manually or by running simulations on each different ignition, he said, but the machine learning system’s statistical approach is “really much faster and more efficient, especially for considering multiple fires simultaneously.”
Faced with a climate change-induced jump in the number of wildfires expected each season, state, county and local firefighting authorities could benefit from some updated tools and techniques, Randerson noted. In addition to potentially saving lives and protecting property and crucial infrastructure, fire suppression efforts will also become increasingly important in preserving the natural world.
“In places like Alaska, there’s a need to limit the area affected by fire, because if we keep having these unusual, high-fire years, more carbon will be lost from the landscape, exacerbating warming,” Randerson said. “If we let the fires run away, we could be in a situation where there’s a lot of significant damage to both the climate system and ecosystems.”
The Latest on: Wildfires
via Google News
The Latest on: Wildfires
- Chinese tourists cancel New Year trips to Australia amid wildfireson January 17, 2020 at 4:41 pm
Australia's largest tourism market is turning away as the smoke shrouding Sydney and Melbourne and images of fire-ravaged beach resorts deter Chinese New Year tourists, in a further blow to the ...
- These Animals Are On The Brink Of Extinction Because Of The Australian Wildfireson January 17, 2020 at 1:59 pm
"We are trying to make sure that every animal has a chance for survival.” By Zahra Hirji Posted on January 17, 2020, at 4:45 p.m. ET Hastings River mouse As Australia continues to fight its ...
- Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfireson January 17, 2020 at 11:00 am
There is no rational basis to the ideology of environmentalism. It predicts catastrophes, then campaigns against practical, effective measures that would reduce their destructiveness.
- Australia’s Wildfires: A NATURE Special Reporton January 17, 2020 at 8:40 am
[This post is being updated. Videos, images and stories will be published as we receive them.] Australia is currently experiencing an unprecedented fire season, exacerbated by the warming climate, ...
- Climate change or poor policy? As Australia’s wildfires see some relief, blame game ascendson January 17, 2020 at 8:17 am
“Climate change has brought bountiful rains throughout most of the past two decades, which have suppressed wildfires and allowed for more vegetation growth. That is a good thing,” said James Taylor, ...
- Koalas’ Sanctuary Island Is Under Threat From Wildfireson January 17, 2020 at 2:30 am
Australia’s deadly wildfires are scorching vast parts of the country, forcing thousands to flee their homes and threatening wildlife, including koalas. WSJ visits Kangaroo Island to see how volunteers ...
- What to Know About the Health Impact of Australia's Wildfireson January 16, 2020 at 3:24 pm
NASA says smoke from the wildfires in Australia has made a full circuit of the Earth. Columbia University’s Darby Jack explains how this happened and who is at risk. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory/EPA/ ...
- Rain in Australia goes 'a long way' towards containing wildfires, US fire crews say damage 'apocalyptic'on January 16, 2020 at 12:20 pm
After devastating wildfires have scorched Australia for weeks, hard-hit communities received relief Thursday from heavy rain and thunderstorms as forecasters officials cautioned it was only just the ...
- Prehistoric trees in Australia saved from wildfires in secret missionon January 16, 2020 at 9:35 am
MORE: How to help support the Australian wildfires relief effort The exact location of the trees is kept secret from the public to prevent contamination, but four firefighters were asked to visit the ...
- Firefighters save rare dinosaur trees as wildfires ravage Australiaon January 16, 2020 at 5:43 am
CANBERRA, Australia — Specialist firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from wildfires that razed forests west of Sydney, officials said Thursday.
via Bing News