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article imageNASA can look at the factors leading to start and spread of fires

By Karen Graham     Aug 1, 2018 in Technology
NASA researchers recently developed a model that analyzes various weather factors that lead to the formation and spread of fires. It is called the Global Fire Weather Database (GFWED).
Looking at the Earth from space, wildfires, forest fires and brush fires all look the same - like fires. That's because burning vegetation can appear similar, while the causes - manmade or wild - can be very different.
Besides being set by arsonists, fires can be started by lightning, while others may be started by farmers clearing land or just simply by accident, like the Carr Fire in California that was caused by a mechanical failure of an automobile.
But NASA points out that regardless of how a fire starts, the intensity and duration of fires are influenced by the type of vegetation, the dryness of the landscape, weather, and wind speeds.
Fire zone north of #ParrySound fire 33. #OPP asking the public to stay away from the waterways in or...
Fire zone north of #ParrySound fire 33. #OPP asking the public to stay away from the waterways in order to NOT interfere from #MNRF water-bomber fire suppression efforts.
Ontario Provincial Police, North East Region
The GFWED model that NASA scientists developed compiles and examine different informational indexes, that include nearby winds, temperatures, and humidity. And the GFWED is also the first fire forecast model to incorporate satellite-based precipitation estimations.
Forest fire weather index
After examining the compiled data from all the satellite sources and various data sets, GFWED produces a rating that indicates how likely and intense a fire might become in a particular area.
“Rather than look at the individual weather components, we look at their comprehensive effect,” said Robert Field, creator of GFWED and a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It’s not just one factor that causes a fire to start or spread.”
Satellite imaging and forest inventories mean it is possible to monitor the rate at which the forest...
Satellite imaging and forest inventories mean it is possible to monitor the rate at which the forest is shrinking
Alexandre TREGOURES, Nitidae/AFP
"For instance, if a region has not received normal precipitation for weeks or months, the vegetation might be drier and more prone to catching fire. Then if it gets windy, a fire could spread more quickly," he adds.
The GFWED rating is based on the Fire Weather Index (FWI) System, the most widely used fire weather system in the world. The FWI System was developed in Canada and is composed of three moisture codes and three fire behavior indices. The moisture codes capture the moisture content of three generalized fuel classes and the behavior indices reflect the spread rate, fuel consumption and intensity of a fire if it were to start.
Satellite  photo of the Biscuit Fire on September 1  2002. Jacques Descloitres  MODIS Rapid Response...
Satellite photo of the Biscuit Fire on September 1, 2002. Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.
Biscuit Fire Archives/NASA
The GFWED system takes into account all the parameters in the FWI and correlates that information with meteorological data from NASA’s MERRA2 dataset of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office(GMAO).
Precipitation data come from ground-based rain gauges and from the Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals (IMERG), a product of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission. Using the GMAO weather forecasts, it is also possible to include experimental 8–day global forecasts of fire danger into the GFWED modeling.
his graph depicts the impact of assimilating GRACE terrestrial water storage data (yellow)  SMOS bri...
his graph depicts the impact of assimilating GRACE terrestrial water storage data (yellow), SMOS brightness temperature data (green), and both data types (dark blue) on the skill of a hydrological model. The impact is shown by the change in skill compared to the model-only calculation. Overall, the best hydrology is achieved when both observation types (i.e., SMOS and GRACE) are assimilated simultaneously: the joint assimilation retains the advantages of each individual dataset’s impact.
NASA
“Across much of the world, tracking fires and smoke using NASA satellite data is the only way to get a consistent picture of fire activity, and our fire weather data helps us to understand the causes,” said Field. “That will help us to understand how fire activity might change and allows us to think ahead for different climate scenarios.”
Looking to the future and improving the GFWED system, Field wants to add some additional elements to the system, like how far ahead high fire danger can be predicted. Another element which will be very helpful for firefighters on the ground is a database of the different types of vegetation on the ground in a particular area.
This diagram  illustrates the components of the FWI System. Calculation of the components is based o...
This diagram illustrates the components of the FWI System. Calculation of the components is based on consecutive daily observations of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and 24-hour rainfall. The six standard components provide numeric ratings of relative potential for wildland fire.
Natural Resources Canada
With the WFI Index, a rating of 0 to 30 is used in Canada, while the Index in France goes from 0 to 20. The index is computed from five components. The first three components are numeric ratings of the moisture content of litter and other fine fuels, the average moisture content of loosely compacted organic layers of moderate depth, and the average moisture content of deep, compact organic layers.
Adding the type of vegetation into the computations, along with moisture content and other factors will prove to be very helpful in how a fire is fought on the ground.
More about NASA, Earth science, Weather satellites, anthropogenic climate change, Wildfires
 
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