Satellite System for Early Warning and Response against Forest Fires

Satellite System for Early Warning and Response against Forest Fires

SARTiv CONAE's Teófilo Tabanera Space Center Falda del Carmen

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 to 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, wildfires are fires that rage out of control and damage the natural vegetation and are similar to those that happen in the Sierras de Córdoba. Controlled burns, in contrast, are carried out in order to remove agricultural wastes or to burn pastures to encourage green resprouting for grazing animals. Photo: Nicolás Marí.

The SARTiv is a computer-based module designed to generate maps and upload them 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 occurrence" and it consists of three stages: pre-fire stage, fully developed stage and post-fire stage.
In the first stage of the analysis (pre-fire), MODIS images from NASA satellites Aqua and Terra 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. This type of estimate is carried out every 16 days in general," says Mr. Marí.
Fire detection corresponds to the fully developed stage, and it serves to distinguish the events' spatio-temporal distribution. In order to do so, MODIS images and, currently, also VIIRS images, are used.
"The thermal sensors can map fire or burning fronts based on the large hot flame emissions. Once detected, their location is specified and identified with a dot, which is represented spatially through a pair of coordinates that will be part of a large spatio-temporal 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 is an unprecedented approach at national level that, basically, estimates what will happen in the atmosphere with the moving pollutants.


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 toxic air levels after catastrophic events like wildfires.
"Sometimes we think that pollutants released from one place only affect the population of that place, but actually, when those pollutants get carried to other places, they undergo chemical processes that can make them even more dangerous," warns the young woman.
"This modeling system functions operationally and anyone can access a website to look for air quality predictions of up to three days and forecast how those pollutants move in the atmosphere. In that way, we are able to provide information that prevents risk events," she closes.
 
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, at Falda del Carmen town. 

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