Fighting Wildfires with Data in Greece

 |   Josh Henretig

fireAs anyone who has been through an earthquake or a hurricane can tell you, natural disasters can cause significant destruction. That’s one reason why improvements in predictive technologies, which can be used to improve forecasts of weather and other natural events, have promised to dramatically improve people’s lives. In Lesvos, a picturesque Greek island situated in the Aegean Sea, researchers are using Microsoft technology to determine the daily wildfire risk during the driest months. The technology is helping firefighters coordinate more effective responses to fires, which shows how technology can be used to better protect the environment at a local level.

The Fire app, which is built on Microsoft Research’s VENUS-C Fire application and the computing power of Windows Azure, analyzes data on the island’s topography, vegetation and weather patterns to understand the potential of an emerging fire. Windows Azure provides the necessary processing power and storage that is required to make the app successful and efficient, while integrating other technologies from Bing Maps and Microsoft Silverlight to enable firefighters to visualize potential fire threats.

The app was created in 2011 through a partnership between the Geography of Natural Disasters laboratory team at Greece’s University of Aegean and Microsoft Research. The team from Microsoft Research partnered with the university’s lab during the development phases to provide IT expertise, high performance computing resources and cloud computing infrastructure.

During the dry season the Fire app is used daily. Each morning, the lab team loads new information into the tool based on the weather forecast and pre-determined data related to topography and vegetation. Fire response teams use the app throughout the day to view the data in a refined, graphical view that helps them recognize potential threats before they turn into potential fires. To date, the department has been better prepared to respond to and control fire, preventing potential loss of life and property.

This approach to data-intensive science has strong potential not only for fighting wildfires but for solving other environmental challenges as well. Earlier this year, for instance, Microsoft Research announced an approach that used Big Data to model the planet’s biodiversity and better understand long-term impacts to threated species—another example of how a new age of technology is better equipping us to act as better stewards of our planet.

You can learn more about how Microsoft Research is tackling problems like wildfires in this blog post from the Microsoft Research Connections Blog, and follow up on Twitter (@Microsoft_Green) for more sustainability news.

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