MAY 21, 2020 2:06 PM PDT

Mapping wildfires with neural networks

Hydrology researchers have banded together with environmental engineers and remote sensing specialists to develop a deep-learning model that will aid the Western US as the wildfire season of 2020 begins. The model measures fuel moisture levels with precision in twelve states across the West and Pacific Coast. 

Live fuel moisture level is a complex measurement to obtain. Senior author of the paper, Stanford University ecohydrologist Alexandra Konings, explains.

"You look at how much mass was lost in the oven, and that's all the water that was in there. That's obviously really laborious, and you can only do that in a couple of different places, for only some of the species in a landscape.” Konings is an assistant professor of Earth system science at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth).

The U.S. Forest Service has gathered over 200,000 measurements from hundreds of sites over the last half-century, all of which are recorded in the National Fuel Moisture Database, we still don’t have a strong understanding of how plant water content changes over time from one plant to another -- or from one ecosystem to another.

Because of a lack of accurate and complete data, scientists have had to extrapolate fuel moisture content based on estimates of existing data and informed guesses about relationships between temperature, precipitation, water in dead plants, and the dryness of living ones. But all that is changing with the help of AI. 

"Now, we are in a position where we can go back and test what we've been assuming for so long -- the link between weather and live fuel moisture -- in different ecosystems of the western United States," emotes lead author Krishna Rao. 

Photo: Pixabay

With the help of a recurrent neural network, the researchers mapped live fuel moisture content every 15 days at 250 meters resolution over the western US using microwave backscatter and optical reflectance. 

"One of our big breakthroughs was to look at a newer set of satellites that are using much longer wavelengths, which allows the observations to be sensitive to water much deeper into the forest canopy and be directly representative of the fuel moisture content," commented Konings. 

The researchers hope their high-resolution dynamic maps will help fire managers reduce wildfire risk in the coming months. "Creating these maps was the first step in understanding how this new fuel moisture data might affect fire risk and predictions," Konings concludes. "Now we're trying to really pin down the best ways to use it for improved fire prediction."

Sources: Remote Sensing of Environment, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
AUG 05, 2020
Plants & Animals
Satellite Images Reveal New Emperor Penguin Colonies
AUG 05, 2020
Satellite Images Reveal New Emperor Penguin Colonies
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) recently shared excellent news about emperor peng ...
SEP 03, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Nuclear Pioneers Joined Force to Fast-Track Clean Energy Tech
SEP 03, 2020
Nuclear Pioneers Joined Force to Fast-Track Clean Energy Tech
Last week, TerraPower, a Bill Gates-backed nuclear startup, announced its latest project - a collaboration with GE Hitac ...
SEP 12, 2020
Earth & The Environment
90% of protected wild areas are fragmented
SEP 12, 2020
90% of protected wild areas are fragmented
Are protected areas even helpful is they’re so disjointed that wildlife can’t move between them? That’ ...
OCT 27, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Why doping polycrystalline solar cells improves efficiency
OCT 27, 2020
Why doping polycrystalline solar cells improves efficiency
While there is certainly a fair amount of warranted pessimism about the future of our planet, there is also warranted op ...
NOV 04, 2020
Plants & Animals
Scientists Rediscover "Lost" Chameleon Species in Madagascar
NOV 04, 2020
Scientists Rediscover "Lost" Chameleon Species in Madagascar
Voeltzkow’s chameleon was recently rediscovered after disappearing for more than 100 years. According to an articl ...
NOV 18, 2020
Health & Medicine
Rising Temperatures May Increase Tick-Borne Diseases in Humans
NOV 18, 2020
Rising Temperatures May Increase Tick-Borne Diseases in Humans
New research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene warns that climate ...
Loading Comments...