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NASA Launches Wildfire Digital Twin to Boost Fire Management and Air Quality Prediction

Wildfire Digital Twin
  • NASA’s “Wildfire Digital Twin” project enhances wildfire management with high-resolution models (10-30 meters per pixel) that can be constructed in minutes, providing critical real-time data for firefighters.
  • Led by Professor Milton Halem, the project includes over twenty researchers from six institutions, focusing on improving wildfire prediction and control, particularly in boreal forests, using advanced observation capabilities and portable modeling tools.

NASA recently unveiled their innovative “Wildfire Digital Twin” project – a sophisticated tool intended to assist firefighters and wildfire managers with monitoring fires, anticipating air pollution events and managing hazardous wildfires more effectively.

NASA reports that current global models used to describe wildfire spread and smoke movement typically feature spatial resolution of approximately 10 kilometers per pixel.

However, Wildfire Digital Twin aims to produce regional ensemble models with significantly enhanced spatial resolution of 10-30 meters per pixel – two orders of magnitude more accurate and detailed predictions are possible due to this additional resolution.

NASA claims these high-resolution models can be constructed in mere minutes compared to hours required by current models.

Milton Halem, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland, led this multi-university effort dubbed Wildfire Digital Twin project with over twenty researchers participating from six institutions.

Halem highlighted the criticality of providing firefighters with timely and useful information, especially given their limited internet access and computing resources in the field. With API version of model running on portable devices like laptops or tablets, digital twin can now run efficiently for field workers according to Halem.

NASA’s FireSense project seeks to leverage NASA’s resources and expertise in order to enhance wildfire management across the US. Backed by Earth Science Technology Office, this initiative includes creating innovative observation capabilities capable of anticipating and controlling wildfires such as Earth System Digital Twins.

NASA notes that Earth System Digital Twins are dynamic software tools designed for real-time modeling and forecasting climate events using information gleaned from various sources to produce ensemble predictions.

Enhancing Boreal Forest Wildfire Research

Halem anticipates that Wildfire Digital Twins will enhance boreal forest wildfire research – critical for carbon sequestration despite contributing to CO2 emissions – according to a 2023 study.

Halem’s team joined NASA’s FireSense field campaign for Utah using ceilometer data derived from controlled burns conducted with FASMEE of National Forest Service to observe smoke travel over 10 miles during controlled burns using ceilometer measurements, according to Halem’s team’s work and NASA. These measurements will increase accuracy in tracking smoke plumes over time.

The team primarily tracks PM 2.5 particles, which have significant health impact as they travel long distances from fire sources. Furthermore, they strive to quantify wildfire aerosols’ relationship to precipitation for understanding its impacts at various scales.

“We want to be able to provide firefighters with useful, timely information,” Halem said in an official statement.

“There is generally no internet, and no access to big supercomputers, but with our API version of the model, they could run the digital twin not just on a laptop, but even a tablet.”

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