An early warning system that can prevent wildfires

Water & climate, Firefighting

A warmer world makes for a more combustable world. Over the last 50 years or so, the world has been experiencing more and more wildfires. Wildfires are typically either started accidentally by humans – e.g. cigarettes that are being tossed out the window – or by natural causes like lightning.

These ignition events don’t have a major effect on the scale of the fire, but what does affect scale are prevailing climate conditions. And these have become warmer and drier across the globe. The global temperature is increasing and the climate to change. This enhances the likelihood of wildfires.

"The Netherlands fire service will provide a detailed prognosis on the risk of wildfires for a 48-hour period"

Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security

Why? Because warmer temperatures increase evaporation, which means the atmosphere draws more moisture from soils, making the land drier. Drier conditions and higher temperatures increase not only the likelihood of a wildfire to occur, but also the duration and the severity of the wildfire. That means when wildfires break out, they expand faster and burn more area as they move in unpredictable ways.

Fire fighters and VanderSat built an early warning system that can prevent wildfires

These facts have not gone unnoticed to the global firefighting community including the Netherlands Fire Service. In 2017, the Ministry of Justice and Security started exploring the possibility to address its security challenges with satellite technology. The goal was to built a service based on satellite technology which will support end users with their responsibilities and tasks, including the prevention of wildfires.

VanderSat teamed up with the Institute of Safety. The solution is based on measuring humidity levels of vegetation and soil. The Netherlands fire service will provide a prognosis on the risk of wildfires for a 48-hour period. Based on a very detailed weather independent, near real time view on the water in the vegetation (Vegetation Optical Depth) and the water in the soil (Soil Moisture) firefighters will be able to better respond to wildfires before they happen.

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Teije van der Horst MSc

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