Giving Compass' Take:

• Josie Garthwaite writes for Futurity on how new AI maps play a crucial role in predicting wildfires out west, especially while resources are so thin from coronavirus.

• How can we use technological advancements to respond to the effects of climate disasters? Why are mechanisms like these AI maps so important during the pandemic?

• Learn about how you can fund coronavirus response efforts to make predicting wildfires that much easier.

As California and the American West head into wildfire season amid the coronavirus pandemic, scientists are harnessing artificial intelligence and new satellite data to help predict wildfire blazes across the region.

The new deep-learning model maps fuel moisture levels in fine detail across 12 western states, from Colorado, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming to the Pacific Coast.

The model needs more testing to figure into fire management decisions that put lives and homes on the line, says lead author, Krishna Rao, a PhD student in earth system science. But it’s already illuminating previously invisible patterns. Just being able to see forest dryness unfold pixel by pixel over time, he says, can help reveal areas at greatest risk and “chart out candidate locations for prescribed burns.”

The work comes at a time of growing urgency for this kind of insight, as climate change extends and intensifies the wildfire season—and as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic complicates efforts to prevent large fires through controlled burns, prepare for mass evacuations, and mobilize first responders.

For decades, scientists have estimated fuel moisture content indirectly, from informed but unproven guesses about relationships between temperature, precipitation, water in dead plants, and the dryness of living ones.

The new model uses what researchers call a recurrent neural network, an artificial intelligence system that can learn to recognize patterns in vast mountains of data. The scientists trained their model using field data from the National Fuel Moisture Database, then put it to work estimating fuel moisture from two types of measurements collected by space-borne sensors.

Read the full article about predicting wildfires by Josie Garthwaite at Futurity.