Can AI Save Our Forests?

Published on 09 Nov, 2021

Wildfires are one of the most destructive effects of climate change. They have ravaged acres of forest, even in the lush Amazon; killed animal, birds, and trees; and are becoming a bigger menace with increasing temperature. Scientists and firefighters are now turning toward technologies such as AI to fight forest fires by predicting them early on to stop them or understanding their pattern to strategize ways to limit their spread. AI-powered tools and platforms can help fight wildfires more effectively and minimize the damage they inflict.

Forest fires or wildfires top the list as the most harmful effects of climate change that are responsible for the death of animals, plants, and birds, and cause a huge amount of carbon dioxide emission. They can spread easily and wreak havoc on any town or village situated near the forest. Wildfire seasons are becoming longer and harsher, making it difficult for firefighters to control the fire. In 2021, almost 2.5 acres of forest was destroyed due to a wildfire in California.

However, scientists and firefighters now use new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to fight the fire more smartly. AI models and algorithms can help firefighters and analysts understand how the fire will start or burn, allowing them to strategize in advance. Data on details of fuel model conditions such as terrain, fuel type, weather, area, and other variables can help predict the course of fire, the speed at which it can spread, and the best places to stop it.

Some of the innovative technologies being used are as follows:

  1. Forest Capsule V2 – This is an innovative and unique sensor solution that helps predict forest fires and mitigate destruction. The platform uses the IoT technology and AI algorithms to predict wildfires. It measures the heat and carbon dioxide levels in the forest and determines if there is a fire risk. In case of a potential fire, the platform is equipped with smoke and wind sensors to determine the scale and course as well as accurate location data for immediate response.
  2. IGNIS – This AI-powered drones can help firefighters combat the blaze. IGNIS carries a huge load of small chemical spheres filled with glycol, which starts a small fire when they hit the ground and consume the fuel needed by an approaching fire and stop it from spreading.
  3. Descartes Lab – This start-up in the US is developing an AI algorithm to detect budding fires. Its AI software runs images delivered by US weather satellites through its system to search for hotspots such as smoke or shifts in thermal infrared data indicating a fire. Furthermore, various algorithms are applied to check if different properties of a wildfire are noted to confirm the presence of fire. Following this, an automatic text alert is sent to the state’s fire managers with GPS coordinates of the fire and the best way to reach it.
  4. FireMap – This AI-powered system uses deep learning techniques and AI algorithms to analyze real-time data on topography, weather, vegetation, and other important factors from satellites, on-the-ground sensors, utility cameras, etc. It helps predict the location of the fire, its spread, and its direction.
  5. ALERTwildfire – The system uses pan-tilt-zoom cameras to survey the area for flame and smoke. The image is analyzed by an AI algorithm and compared with historical images of the same landscape. This system is still under development to ensure it can distinguish between wildfire smoke and aerosols or geysers.

Climate scientists have understood how technologies like AI can help curb environmental issues. AI is slowly being leveraged across the globe to address various ill-effects of climate change such as wildfires. Currently, the use of AI in fighting wildfires is new and it is difficult to measure the impact it will have. However, AI may soon become one of the main tools for environmental monitoring and instrumental in minimizing environmental degradation due to climate change.