June 9, 2004
Researchers funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation are developing computer data systems to model wildfire behavior to give incident management teams on location real-time maps and predictions, displayed on wireless handheld devices. This information, generated by remote supercomputers, could be used to decide how best to handle fires.
The four-year project, involving researchers from several institutions, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, will use recent advances in computer technology, high-speed information networks, satellite and sensor monitoring, mathematical theory and meteorology to develop tools to warn firefighters about where a fire may go and sudden changes that might occur, such as wind changes or extreme fire behavior.
The effort, dubbed the Data Dynamic Simulation for Disaster Management, is part of the NSF’s Information Technology Research Program. The team is headed by University of Colorado-Denver mathematics professor Jan Mandel, who will work with a coupled weather and wildfire computer model developed at NCAR to build a software system that will use data from the fire scene to determine wildfire-spread scenarios and probabilities.
The team will create a system where multiple sensors placed around a wildfire will continuously send input such as temperature, wind direction/speed and moisture in grass and sticks to a supercomputer.
The supercomputer will use the mathematically based wildfire model to continuously send maps and forecasted fire locations to the front lines in real time, allowing a fire manager to see minute-by-minute predictions or anticipate where fire growth will occur along the fire line.
The system may also allow fire managers to plan the most effective and efficient actions, for example by foreseeing situations where weather, the terrain, fuels and winds created by the fire would combine to create a rapidly growing fire unless more resources are used to stop it early on.
The system might also be used to identify situations where wildfires can be allowed to spread harmlessly under controlled conditions for hazardous fuel reduction and natural resource benefits. In four years, the research team is scheduled to test the technology with a real wildfire.
“In the past, running a model on a computer meant starting a simulation and then waiting for the results. It is time to change the way scientific modeling is done,” said Mandel.
Wildland fires are a devastating force driven by complex phenomena that are not well understood. Scientists at NCAR have a history of coupling numerical regional weather simulations with fire-spread models to advance the understanding of wildfires.
“There are many things about wildfires that aren’t understood scientifically,” said NCAR scientist Janice Coen. “There are also many technological challenges involved in simulating phenomena that change very rapidly, and in quickly transmitting data from remote locations into a model running many possible scenarios on a supercomputer far away. You have to deliver this information rapidly, reliably, and in a meaningful way (with images, not words) through secure means to people who may be far from telephones. Those are the information technology problems this research addresses, and they occur in management of other natural and human-caused disasters as well.”
Coen’s research interests include coupled atmosphere-wildland fire modeling, analysis of infrared imagery of wildland fire dynamics, and numerical modeling of precipitation formation over complex terrain. She is the scientific lead of the Wildland Fire R&D Collaboratory.
For more information and downloadable simulation clips, follow the research link at http://www.mmm.ucar.edu/.