Artificial intelligence in the fight against forest fires: two innovative programs of the National Observatory of Athens

By | May 1, 2023

FILE PHOTO: A helicopter tries to extinguish a fire. APE-MBE, GEETHA PRESS OFFICE, STR

Artificial intelligence enters the battle to prevent and deal with forest fires through innovative programs that have been developed, whose coordinator is the National Observatory of Athens.

These are two innovative programs “Deep Cube” and “SeasFire” that began in January 2021 and March 2022 respectively and through the use of artificial intelligence technologies, seek to assess the risk of forest fire in different ways.

As newly elected NTUA National Observatory Commissioner Researcher at the Institute of Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications and Remote Sensing, Yannis Papoutsis, emphasizes to the Athens-Macedonia News Agency, “Deep Cube’s goal is to use a lot of satellite data that is available right now, for free and combined with artificial intelligence technologies to be able to extract new information from satellite data.”

In Deep Cube there are various technologies and applications, one of which is the assessment of the risk of forest fires for the next day. “It is an application that we have developed in collaboration with the Fire Department,” he says, referring to the start of the fire season today.

Last year, the specific program functioned as a pilot for Greece, but this year its application has been extended to the entire Mediterranean.

“As a country and as an institution (National Observatory of Athens) we have innovated, we are among the first. We will also develop it for other countries, within the framework of other programs that have been requested of us, in Spain for example, and we will also do it for the rest of the Mediterranean”, he underlines.

“Through the innovative program we are trying to solve the problem of risk prevention, which is complex and multidimensional, since it is a series of environmental and other parameters that interact with each other, increasing or decreasing the risk each time,” he says. Mr. Papoutsis and adds:

“That’s because it’s hard to model, so we’re trying to train an AI system to learn all of these complex, nonlinear interactions between all of these parameters. This can happen by leveraging historical data. We let a model take these parameters as input and, based on the history of burned areas, learn these complex interrelationships. And then after we train this model, we put it into production.”

“Every day we collect all these parameters and make an estimate for the next day”, says Mr. Papoutsis to APE-MBE and adds the important contribution of the Fire Brigade to this project.

Based on the “Deep Cube”, the IAADET/EAA Orion Lab research team proceeded after one year, in March 2022, to the development of a second groundbreaking “SeasFire” program funded by the European Space Agency.

“SeasFire” studies wildfire risk assessment but on a different time scale, 2, 3, 4, 5 months from today.

“After DeepCube, we took the courage to go a step further and see how we can use artificial intelligence to predict the frequency and intensity of forest fires in Europe in the long term,” he says.

“A basic assumption that we make is the butterfly effect, that is, something that happened at some point in the past, in another part of the planet, can affect what will happen here and now, and this is because it is a large system interconnected with nature. processes that affect each other, at various spatial and temporal distances. These are the teleconnections”, emphasizes Mr. Papoutsis to APE-MBE, adding:

“That’s what we’re trying to model in SeasFire and we’re focusing on Europe, but in order to assess the risk of seasonal fires in Europe we need to get information on what’s happening in the Atlantic Ocean, what’s happening in Africa, what what is happening in other regions of the planet beforehand to be able to predict what will happen this summer. This is their innovation”, underlines Mr. Papoutsis to APE-MPE.

Prevention of natural disasters

According to Mr. Papoutsis, the scientific community is moving rapidly in the direction of using artificial intelligence to prevent these phenomena.

“The question is how all these technological tools leveraging artificial intelligence and satellite data will gain the trust of entrepreneurs. Therefore, trust and understanding must be built in these tools to be able to use them operationally,” says Mr. Papoutsis .

In recent years, it seems that artificial intelligence is being used more and more by the scientific community in combination with weather and satellite data.

“There is a lot of mobility and it shows that artificial intelligence can offer a lot. In the coming years we will have very good results also in terms of the use of artificial intelligence in the whole phase of the fire management cycle”, says Mr. Papoutsis noting:

“These types of applications will continue to emerge and are already emerging from the scientific community, the question is how they will be included in an operational plan or a response based on the protocols that Civil Protection, the Fire Department, the OASP or the other agencies in charge of natural disaster management. This is another matter and concerns national policy and a phase of systematic evaluation, as well as joint development of some services.”

With information from APE-MPE
Athens, Greece


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