Satellite System for Early Warning and Response against Forest Fires

The tool is called SARTiv.  It is used to prevent and monitor vegetation fires using satellite images. It anticipates risk areas, identifies fire events during its development and, subsequently, calculates burned areas. The tool was created by researchers from the Mario Gulich Institute for Higher Space Studies, which is dependent of the UNC and the CONAE. Between 2001 and 2016, more than 10,000 fires in natural areas have been registered in Córdoba. [17.08.2017]

Pablo Carrizo
Por Pablo Carrizo
Editorial Department UNCiencia
Institutional Communication UNC
pablo.carrizo@unc.edu.ar

According to the National Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, an average of 988,421 acres is burned per year in Argentina- an area equivalent to seven cities of Córdoba- as a result of wildfires.

From August to October, the meteorological conditions favor the accumulation of dry biomass. For this reason, the risk of fires is "very high" during those months.
Facing this problem and responding to the demand of the National Parks System, researchers from the Mario Gulich Institute of Higher Space Studies (CONAE-UNC) develop different computer-based tools to prevent and help control fires through the use of satellite images.
One of them is the "System of Early Warning and Response for vegetation fires" (SARTiv). Its purpose is to give information about the conditions that determine the cycle of fire development in the country, aiming both at foreseeing them and at detecting them.
The design was created by Nicolás Marí, within the framework of his final thesis of the Gulich Institute's Master's Program on Space Application of Early Warning and Response to Emergencies (Aearte).

"Through the modular design architecture, it was possible to create new areas of work, such as the design of a fire danger index that is operationally functioning at the Teófilo Tabanera Space Center (CONAE) at Falda del Carmen (Córdoba)."
This prediction module allows the forecast of the conditions related to fire danger level that will be detected in the coming days at a specific area.
 
Hotspots, per year, in Cordoba Province


Between 2001 and 2016, 35,366 hotspots have been detected. A 30% corresponds to fires at natural areas and the remaining 70%, to burns related to agricultural activities.
By definition, fires are burns that rage out of control and damage the natural vegetation and are similar to those that happen in the Sierras de Córdoba. The burns, in contrast, are carried out in order to remove agricultural wastes or to burn pastures to hasten the green regrowth for grazing animals. Photo: Nicolás Marí.

The SARTiv is a computer-based module designed to generate maps, which are uploaded to the web so that they are available for many users. It is based on the observation and follow-up of the conditions that determine what on technical terms is called "cycle of fire development" and it consists of three stages: prefire stage, full-blown stage and postfire stage.
In the first stage of the analysis (prefire), MODIS images from NASA's satellites Terra and Aqua are used. "Vegetation indexes are calculated and historical records are compiled." Through the latter, anomalies are tracked and the vegetation's relative situation at a given time is established. In that way, it is possible to predict fire dangers. In general, this type of estimate is carried out every 16 days", says Mr. Marí.
Fire detection corresponds to the full-blown stage, and it serves to distinguish the event' spatiotemporal distribution.  In order to do so, MODIS's images are used and, currently, also VIRS's images.
"The heat sensors can map fire or burning fronts based on the large hot flame emissions.” Once detected, their location is specified and identified by a dot. Then we will represent it in space through a pair of coordinates that will be part of a large spatiotemporal database," he says.
 
Comparison between the heat coming from wildfires and agricultural burns per year


Source: Nicolás Marí

Apart from the fire front’s location and time, the heat given off by the flames are also detected. This measure offers information about the scale at which the fires ravage vegetation and release combustible gases into the atmosphere.
The postfire stage corresponds to the measurement of burned areas and the analysis of recovery tasks. For this, images from the NASA's satellite Landsat 8 and the satellite SPOT, belonging to the manufacturing company Astrium, are used. It is important to know which areas have been burned and if they had previously suffered similar events in order to devise efficient strategies of remediation.
 
First National System to Measure Air Quality
Another remarkable research promoted by the Gulich Institute's Master's Program Aearte is the work by María Fernanda García Ferreyra, who designed a system to model air quality in Argentina. 
This about an unprecedented approach at national level and it basically evaluates what will happen in the atmosphere with the pollutants moving in the air.


Fernanda García Ferreyra is currently working at the CONAE's Unit of Environmental Emergency.

"From the database of pollutant emissions collected by different sources and at different locations, we predict the behavior of those pollutants according to weather conditions and how they will react with the presence or absence of sunlight or when they meet other pollutants," says Ms. García Ferreyra.
The system warns the community about the levels of toxic air after catastrophic events like fires.
"Sometimes we have the idea that the pollutants released from one place only affect the population of that place, but actually, when get carried to other places, those pollutants undergo chemical processes that can make them even more dangerous," warns the young woman.
"This modeling system functions operationally and one can check out a website to look for air quality predictions of up to three days and foresee how those pollutants move in the atmosphere. In that way, we can provide information for the prevention of risk events," she finishes.
 
About the final theses
Designing a System of Early Warning and Response for vegetation fires – SARTiv, by Nicolás Marí (Lic. in Environmental Management and MA in Space Application of Early Warning and Response to Emergencies). He works at the Rural Extension Agency of the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), at Cruz del Eje town.
Obtaining air quality maps through the implementation and first application of the chemical transport model CHIMERE over Argentina, by María Fernanda García Ferreyra (Lic. in Environmental Management and MA in Space Application of Early Warning and Response to Emergencies). She works at CONAE's Environment Emergency Unit, in the Teófilo Tabanera Space Center, located at Falda del Carmen town.

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