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Smokey Bear Now Studies Computer Science

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wildfire on computer screen

Computers and supercomputers aid firefighters in understanding wildfire behavior and predicting its spread.

Credit: Miller-McCume

Innovative computer mapping tools and airborne imaging technology are being used by researchers with access to supercomputers to predict wildfire behavior. For example, the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Rod Linn and Lawrence Livermore's Michael Bradley designed a computer-modeling system to predict wildfire behavior that uses the FIRETEC program, which factors in weather changes and the effects of complex terrains. The researchers coupled FIRETEC with HIGRAD, a program that adds in the atmospheric conditions and the effects of smoke plumes. By simulating past fires and hypothetical future fires, the researchers hope to predict wildfire spread accurately enough to assist first responders. The researchers also are studying how increasing wind, or reducing humidity, changes fire behavior.

Meanwhile, University of California, Riverside professor Peter Sadler uses computer simulations to study the impact of fires on the growth of shrubbery, grasses, and other combustibles.

However, these fire prediction models still need to be simplified computationally so they run fast enough to build a practical, close to real time, predictive model, says Florida State University professor Phil Cunningham.

From Miller-McCune
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