In Argentina, an average of 400,000 hectares is burned per year as a result of forest fires, according to data from the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Nation. An area equivalent to seven cities of Córdoba (Argentina).

From August to October, the weather conditions favor the accumulation of dry biomass. For that reason, the risk of fires is very high during those months.

Faced with this problem and at the request of the National Park System, researchers from the Institute of Higher Space Studies “Mario Gulich” developed different computer tools to prevent and collaborate in the control of fires, through the use of satellite images.

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One of them is the “Early Warning and Response System for vegetation fires”. Its purpose is to generate information on the conditions that determine the cycle of occurrence of fires in the country, both to anticipate them and to detect them when they occur.

The design was created by Nicolás Marí, within the framework of his thesis for the Master in Spatial Applications of Early Warning and Response to Emergencies of the Gulich Institute.

“From the modular design of this architecture, it was possible to generate new workspaces, such as the design of a fire danger index that operates operationally in the Teófilo Tabanera Space Center of Falda del Carmen (Córdoba)”, explains the investigator.

This predictive module allows us to anticipate the conditions that in the next few days would be recorded in relation to the level of fire hazard in a certain area.

The SARTiv is a computer module designed to generate maps and upload them to the web so that they are available to different users. It is based on the observation and monitoring of the conditions that determine what in technical terms is called “cycle of occurrence of fires” and that consists of three phases: prefuego, during and postefuego.

In the first stage of analysis (prefuego), we work with images provided by the MODIS Aqua and Terra satellites, both belonging to NASA. “Vegetation indexes are calculated and historical series are compiled. Through them, anomalies are processed and the relative situation of the vegetation is established at a given moment. In that way, it is possible to infer the danger of fires. Generally, this type of approach is carried out every 16 days, “specifies Marí.

Fire detection corresponds to the stage during and serves to characterize the space-time distribution of events. To do this, MODIS images are used and also, currently, VIIRS images.

“The thermal sensors allow to identify the fronts of fires or burn from the strong emission of a temperature of the flames. Once detected, its position is calculated and it is identified with a point, which we represent spatially with a pair of coordinates, which will be part of a large spatial database “, Marí details.

In addition to the location and moment of the igneous front, the energy radiated by its flames is also captured. This measure provides information on the magnitude with which the fire consumes the vegetation and emits combustion gases into the atmosphere.

The post-fire phase corresponds to the activities of quantification of burned surfaces and the analysis for their recovery. For that, images from the satellites Landsat 8, from Nasa, and SPOT, belonging to the manufacturing company Astrium, are used. It is important to know which areas were burned and if they had previously suffered similar episodes, to plan effective remediation strategies.

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Another of the relevant research projects carried out in the framework of the Aearte Master’s Degree at the Gulich Institute is the work of María Fernanda García Ferreyra, who applied a system to model air quality in Argentina.

It is an unprecedented approach at the national level, which basically serves to estimate what will happen in the atmosphere with the pollutants that move in the air.

“From databases of pollutant emissions, from different sources and located in different places, we estimate how these pollutants will be transported according to the weather conditions and how they will react by the presence or absence of the sun, or by how they meet other pollutants “, Describes García Ferreyra.

The system serves to warn the community about the toxic levels of the air, after disastrous events such as fires.

“Sometimes we have the idea that the pollutants that are emitted in a place only affect the populations of that place but, in reality, when transported, these pollutants suffer chemical processes that can make them more dangerous,” the young woman points out.

“This modeling system works operationally and from a website that can enter and see the forecast of air quality for up to three days, and anticipate how these pollutants move in the atmosphere. In this way, we can provide information to prevent risk situations “, he adds.