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Fighting fires from space A scientist uses satellite data and a complex set of figures to calculate Australia’s bushfire risks By Bernice Han

A PILOT LAUNCH OF THE SPACE-BASED Australian Flammability Monitoring System (AFMS) can’t come soon enough as the country braces for what could be an early start to a very fiery summer. Funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre, the AFMS started trials on October 1, providing fire crews and other emergency services with another set of eyes to track down potential hotspots before the blazes spread out of control. The system measures the fuel moisture content (FMC) of live bushfire fuel based on images collected by two NASA satellites that were designed to specifically observe Earth’s changing climates. 24

It crunches the FMC numbers using an algorithm developed by Australian National University scientist Marta Yebra in collaboration with her peers. Dr Yebra, a Spaniard, developed the original formula using data from Mediterranean grasslands and shrublands when she was undertaking her PhD studies in her homeland. She wants to further improve the AFMS predictions and will soon be embarking on experiments at the National Arboretum Canberra, collecting moisture content data from the city’s botanical garden for FMC computations. The research will be funded by the prizemoney she collected when she won the inaugural Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award earlier this year, which is an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science. “Right now, the AFMS uses the algorithms that we calibrated in Europe with some modification I made to apply it to Australia,” Dr Yebra tells Insurance News. “Although the results of the validation of the algorithm in Australia using FMC values measured on the ground shows satisfactory insuranceNEWS

October/November 2017

results, I believe that I can highly improve the accuracy of the estimations by better adapting the algorithm to Australia temperate sclerophyll forest. “The work proposed at the arboretum involves collecting field measurements in the ANU research forest to better understand the mechanisms that link FMC and leaf reflectance in eucalyptus species and develop a suite of radiative transfer models suited to Australian forest.” Dr Yebra provided a glimpse of how the AFMS functions during her presentation at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council conference in Sydney last month. She says in the presentation the monitoring system is the first continent-scale prototype web explorer providing spatial information on current live fuel moisture content and landscape-scale fuel flammability derived from satellite observations. “The overarching objective is to contribute to the development of operational tools that can assist in better resources allocation in fire protection and response and improved awareness of fire hazards to * people and property.”

Profile for Insurance News (the magazine)

OCT/NOV 2017 - Insurance News (the magazine)  

As the pace of change in the Australian insurance industry accelerates, IAG is making some big, bold and swift steps to build a new kind of...

OCT/NOV 2017 - Insurance News (the magazine)  

As the pace of change in the Australian insurance industry accelerates, IAG is making some big, bold and swift steps to build a new kind of...