SYDNEY, Australia On March 2, for the first time in 240 days, not a single bush fire burned in the state of New South Wales. The states Rural Fire Service declared the worst fire season in history, during which 25 people in NSW were killed, officially over. In those eight months, 6 percent, or 13.6 million acres, of the state that a third of Australians call home had been incinerated.
The worlds attention, riveted on the fires earlier this year, has understandably shifted to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. But the devastating fire season has left lessons in its wake. As Australia looks toward a future of more frequent and dangerous fires, scientists and officials are working together to develop fire-prediction technologies that will enable firefighters to work faster and more safely when the next season expected to be perhaps equally grueling begins in just a few months.
What Australia continues to learn could be used elsewhere everywhere from other countries, including the United States, to outer space, in software that must withstand the searing, blustery and otherwise inhospitable conditions of other planets.
When a wildfire breaks out, one of the most difficult decisions faced by the operations team is who and what to send where, and which resources to keep in hand in case they are suddenly needed elsewhere.
Whether you hold resources back in reserve in case more fires break out, or whether you hit that fire very hard, can mean the difference between a fire thats put out in 15 minutes and one that goes for weeks, said Greg Mullins, a former commissioner of Fire and Rescue New South Wales. To make that decision correctly, firefighters first must know which areas are high-risk.
Central to many of the more recent technologies is the ability to predict the influence of Australias eucalyptus trees on a given fire. Eucalyptus are particularly fire-intensive; their dry, shedding bark catches easily, and the embers can be blown ahead of a blaze, lighting others. This phenomenon is known as spotting, and it is one of the most challenging problems in predicting a fires behavior.
An Australian computer program called Phoenix RapidFire models this kind of spotting, simulating the spread of fires across a given area. It has been relied upon to predict fire behavior in both Victoria, where it was introduced after the Black Saturday bush fires that killed 173 people in 2009, and New South Wales. A similar program, FarSite, is used in the United States.
When a wildfire starts, analysts at the NSW Rural Fire Service headquarters in Sydney, who may be 200 miles away or more, enter variables into Phoenix, such as the fires location, the time it started and the terrain. Closer to the fire, regional teams feed information back to headquarters, where the fire management team, with the help of manual analysts, decides where to send resources like firefighters, trucks and water-bombing helicopters.
The technology does not yet outperform people when predicting the spread and behavior of a particular fire. Simon Heemstra, the manager of planning and predictive services at the NSW Rural Fire Service, who has a Ph.D. in fire behavior, described Phoenix as mainly a triage tool.
Nine times out of 10, he said, manual analysts produce more accurate results than the model. Using their experience, analysts are able to incorporate the uncertainty inherent in fire behavior, something the computer just isnt able to grasp. But where the computer model excels, Dr. Heemstra said, is in analyzing several fires at once and determining which one poses the greatest risk and therefore which one manual analysts should focus on.
Australias national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, has developed computer software called Spark, which aims to improve upon Phoenix.
Phoenix was built to predict fire behavior in forest and grass, Dr. Heemstra said, so for several other fuel types, like shrub land, its a bit like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Spark, because it uses unique equations for each fuel type, is more intuitive and reliable. It could be the next evolutionary step in firefighting models, Dr. Heemstra said, and the NSW Rural Fire Service hopes to use it as early as the next fire season.
Whereas fire behavior models like Phoenix and Spark help predict the spread of a fire, drone technology may be able to predict where fires are likely to start. For the moment, drones are used mainly to monitor grassland fires. Forest fires burn particularly hot, and are volatile, making them unsafe for drones to fly over or for anyone nearby to operate the devices.
The wildfire conditions in Australia are sufficiently severe that they verge on otherworldly. NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., has been exploring, with the CSIRO, the possibility of testing artificial intelligence for drones, rovers and satellites not yet developed but intended for future space exploration on the fires. This software would need to withstand extreme conditions on other planets, like hot temperatures, low visibility and turbulent winds, said Natasha Stavros, a science system engineer at J.P.L., in an email.
A November 2019 study by J.P.L.s Blue Sky Thinktank, on which Dr. Stavros was an author, found that the fire-management technologies offering the highest return on investment were autonomous micro-aerial vehicles small drones typically weighing less than a quarter of a pound that would be able to navigate themselves through wildfires. Eventually, these drones would operate in autonomous groups or swarms, which could monitor wider areas. Their ability to communicate with one another and a distant control center could potentially be used in exploring other planets.
On Earth such drones, equipped with infrared sensors, could also read the heat signatures of plants to determine how stressed the vegetation is in an area and thus how dry and fire-prone the terrain might be. On the International Space Station, a similar sensor (though not yet small enough to fit on a drone) called Ecostress has been measuring the temperature of plants for almost two years.
As Australia seems to have entered a new era of more extreme and frequent fires, researchers, firefighting organizations and the government increasingly are also looking at ways to help the environment itself adapt in the long run.
Scientists with the University of Melbourne Bushfire Behavior and Management group have developed the Fire Regime Operations Simulation Tool, or FROST, which aims to predict fire behavior over the course of the next century, by taking into account how vegetation transforms after it is burned. Major trials are expected to begin within the next year.
FROST takes uncertainties into account using Bayesian networks, predictive statistical tools that are designed to ask What if? of every assumption and then produce a range of possible outcomes in response.
Faced with live fires, firefighters need to decide within a matter of minutes what to defend. Wildlife and vegetation inevitably come second to people and property. By simulating long-term risk, FROST can help find and protect zones for particular wildlife or plant species within a fire-prone area that are less susceptible to the flames.
In late January, Trent Penman, a bush fire risk modeler who leads the group that developed FROST, used the program to identify areas that might act as refuges for a species of tree known as the alpine ash, which is particularly vulnerable to the increasing frequency of wildfires. Alpine ash trees die in high-intensity fires, regenerating from seeds left in the ground. But these seedlings take 20 years to reach maturity. Should the area burn again before then, the young trees will die before any new seeds have been left behind.
Alpine ash is at a tipping point, Dr. Penman said. Extreme fires occurring over the next decade could mean the species becomes endangered very, very quickly.
A 2015 paper by academics from the University of Tasmania and the University of Melbourne found that there were 97 percent fewer young, regenerating trees in alpine ash forest sites that had burned twice in 20 years. Under rapid global warming, which is likely to increase fire frequency, it is hard to be optimistic about the long-term survival of the bioregions remaining mature alpine ash forests, the authors of the paper wrote.
Advancements in technology are important, said Mr. Mullins, the former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner, but the big ticket item is tackling climate change. Its a bit like going to a gas fire and putting out all the houses and burning cars around it but not turning off the gas. Well, itll keep burning. All the houses, everything: doesnt matter how much water you put on them, theyll keep catching fire again.
To firefighters its pretty simple, he said. Deal with the basic problem and all the other problems will go away, eventually.
- Students harness the power of technology to address larger issues - Waterbury Republican American - January 3rd, 2021
- Banning Government Use of Face Recognition Technology: 2020 Year in Review - EFF - January 3rd, 2021
- As ice fishing gets easier because of technology, can fish withstand the onslaught? - Duluth News Tribune - January 3rd, 2021
- Technology may have helped us survive Covid-19, but at what cost? - CTech - January 3rd, 2021
- The Effects of Technology on Teens - Cat's Eye View - January 3rd, 2021
- 'Peak hype': why the driverless car revolution has stalled - The Guardian - January 3rd, 2021
- Five Microsoft technologies to watch in 2021 - ZDNet - January 3rd, 2021
- Birmingham CEO named in "100 Most Powerful Women In Technology 2020" - Bham Now - January 3rd, 2021
- Muslims and technology - DAWN.com - January 3rd, 2021
- The biggest technology failures of 2020 - MIT Technology Review - January 3rd, 2021
- Technology trends to thrive in the new normal - BusinessLine - January 3rd, 2021
- Harvard professor believes bizarre asteroid from 2017 was alien technology - SlashGear - January 3rd, 2021
- Irving-based Exela Technologies hires firm to help it explore strategic alternatives - The Dallas Morning News - January 3rd, 2021
- Century Technology Group leans on tech acquisitions to drive growth - MiBiz: West Michigan Business News - January 3rd, 2021
- Global Anti-Counterfeit Packaging Technologies Market (2020 to 2028) - Featuring 3M, Avery Dennison and Digimarc Among Others - ResearchAndMarkets.com... - January 3rd, 2021
- 5G Technologies and the Driverless Car - GlobeNewswire - January 3rd, 2021
- Inside the radical community near Kent without modern technology and where nobody is paid - Kent Live - January 3rd, 2021
- Technology In 2020: Big Tech Goes To Washington; Online Shopping Gets A Pandemic Boost - Here And Now - December 29th, 2020
- Quantum computers' power will remake competition in industries from technology to finance - MarketWatch - December 29th, 2020
- Alarm Bells Ringing On Education Technology - The Chattanoogan - December 29th, 2020
- Technology and Sustainability to Drive Recovery in the UK Facility Management Market - GlobeNewswire - December 29th, 2020
- Boomer's Blueprint: The technology physical - Accounting Today - December 29th, 2020
- How technology will help to shape the future of work in 2021 and beyond - The Star Online - December 29th, 2020
- Technology was a bright spot: Year in Review 2020 - Idaho Business Review - December 29th, 2020
- Tech platforms vowed to address racial equity: how have they fared? - The Guardian - December 29th, 2020
- Global Tissue Ablation Technologies Industry - GlobeNewswire - December 29th, 2020
- This technology could start saving lives tomorrow, but the Nationals won't let it happen - Sydney Morning Herald - December 29th, 2020
- Tackling unforeseen situations along with technological advancements - The Tribune India - December 29th, 2020
- Rebekah Jones named Forbes Technology Person of The Year - Florida Politics - December 29th, 2020
- Vaccines are the latest battleground for doctors on social media - MIT Technology Review - December 29th, 2020
- Top 10 Technology Analysts of 2020 - eWeek - December 29th, 2020
- 5 Ways To Build Trust In Cloud Technology We Saw In 2020 - Forbes - December 29th, 2020
- BRINK Explores the Technology Sector in 2020 BRINK News and Insights on Global Risk - BRINK - December 29th, 2020
- 10 Information Technology Stocks Showing Unusual Options Activity In Today's Session - Benzinga - December 29th, 2020
- Differentiated Lidar Technology Puts Luminar in the Spotlight - InvestorPlace - December 29th, 2020
- The global Green Technology and Sustainability market size to grow from USD 11.2 billion in 2020 to USD 36.6 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual... - December 21st, 2020
- Technology that detects whisky's age is 'world first' - The Spirits Business - December 21st, 2020
- LocatorX Launches Lends-A-Hand Program and Women in Technology Group to Reflect Company Values and Mission - GlobeNewswire - December 21st, 2020
- Shenpu Technology (KIEYYUEL) Made a Stunning Appearance at the International Epidemic Prevention Exhibition - Business Wire - December 21st, 2020
- 2021 Supply Chain Technology Trends To Watch - Forbes - December 21st, 2020
- Understanding the Role of Technology in Today's Foodservice Equipment Marketplace - Total Food Service - December 21st, 2020
- Technology that went its own way in 2020 - Gearbrain - December 21st, 2020
- 2021 outlook: Here are the technologies, questions that'll matter - ZDNet - December 21st, 2020
- Group14 Technologies Powering Next Generation Of Batteries With $17M Series B - Crunchbase News - December 21st, 2020
- How the pandemic inspired creative uses of technology in 2020 - The Verge - December 21st, 2020
- Talking to the LTA innovator hoping to bring new technology to tennis - Tennis365 - December 21st, 2020
- Automotive Air Purifier Market Research Report by Technology, by Type, by Vehicle Class, by Distribution - Global Forecast to 2025 - Cumulative Impact... - December 21st, 2020
- VOTIS Subdermal Imaging Technologies And ii Ventures Announce Plans To Develop Preventative Medicine Devices To Screen For Peripheral Artery Disease... - December 21st, 2020
- 12 Emerging Technologies To Watch In 2021 - Yahoo Finance - December 21st, 2020
- These stocks are the best way to play the technology transformation mega trend, Jefferies says - CNBC - December 21st, 2020
- EPA awards grant to Marshall student team for technology project - Huntington Herald Dispatch - December 21st, 2020
- Wind generation sets another record in banner year for the technology - Current News - December 21st, 2020
- How the Massachusetts police reform bill would actually affect law enforcement use of facial recognition technology - Boston.com - December 21st, 2020
- Greenland Technologies Ramps to Over 800 Units in Monthly Sales of New Integrated Drive Train System for Electric Forklift Trucks - PRNewswire - December 21st, 2020
- Q BioMed Technology Partner Mannin Research Inc. Announced as Member of Canadian National COVID-19 Consortium - BioSpace - December 21st, 2020
- Technology will lead Iowa's business recovery - The Gazette - December 21st, 2020
- Polestar 2 greets winter solstice with advanced lighting technology - Automotive World - December 21st, 2020
- Turnover, Tiny Homes and New Technology: 2021 Predictions from 14 Home Care Executives - Home Health Care News - December 21st, 2020
- Defence technology in 2021: our predictions - Army Technology - December 21st, 2020
- Peijia Medical and HighLife Enter Into License and Technology Transfer Agreement for Transeptal Mitral Valve Replacement in Greater China - BioSpace - December 21st, 2020
- Asian security rests on forging closer U.S.-Japan science and technology cooperation - The Japan Times - December 21st, 2020
- Times Have Changed: Real Estate Event Highlights Reliance on Virtual Technology in a Shifting Environment - RisMedia.com - December 21st, 2020
- New technology will aid search and rescue around Caithness coast - JohnOGroat Journal - December 21st, 2020
- Peter Rhodes on naming a toadstool, harmless technology and why the truth is sometimes not obvious - expressandstar.com - December 21st, 2020
- Leading Technology Advisory Firm ISG Recognizes Unisys as Global Leader in Public Cloud Solutions and Services - PRNewswire - December 21st, 2020
- Leveraging new technology to source and secure carrier capacity - FreightWaves - December 19th, 2020
- Education Technology in 2020: 8 Takeaways From a Chaotic Year - Education Week - December 19th, 2020
- From caring for wildlife to using technology for water distribution, here are the top Social Stories for the w - YourStory - December 19th, 2020
- 12 Emerging Technologies To Watch In 2021 - Benzinga - December 19th, 2020
- The MOCVD Market 2020-2024- Featuring Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment Inc., Agnitron Technology Inc., AIXTRON AG, Among Others to Contribute to... - December 19th, 2020
- Introducing SP8CEVC: The World's First Space Technology and Human Longevity Focused Rolling Fund in Partnership with AngelList - PRNewswire - December 19th, 2020
- BioSig's Division NeuroClear Technologies Signs a Research Agreement with the University of Minnesota - GlobeNewswire - December 19th, 2020
- Waste Is A Design Flaw: Rubicon Taps Technology To Help Businesses And Governments Save Money And Go Zero-Waste - Forbes - December 19th, 2020
- Global STING Pathway Targeting Therapeutics and Technologies Market, 2020-2030 - Promising Leads are Anticipated to be Launched Over the Coming Decade... - December 19th, 2020
- Meet the 10 disruptive technologies vying to win UC's Startup Innovation Challenge - University of California - December 19th, 2020
- Webinar recording with Fervo Energy on key technologies to accelerate geothermal energy development - ThinkGeoEnergy - December 19th, 2020
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology disciplining professor with ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein - MassLive.com - December 19th, 2020
- Using Automation Technology to Improve Facility Safety - EHS Today - December 19th, 2020
- Parsables Connected Worker Technology: The Human-Centric Manufacturing Revolution - Forbes - December 19th, 2020
- Growing Champions: Building digital success with women in technology in Malaysia - The Edge Markets MY - December 19th, 2020