UC system scientists showcase wildfire research, technologies in symposium

photo of the sky during a wildfire
Josh Kahen/File
Due to the wildfire season, smoke filled the Berkeley air. UC system scientists gathered to discuss ways to promote wildfire resilience.

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Scientists from across the UC system discussed California wildfire resilience in a symposium Friday.

The symposium was open to the public upon registration and was hosted by UC Vice President of Research and Innovation Theresa Maldonado. Scientists showcased their work on modeling wildfire spread, prevention and resiliency during the four-hour symposium.

Neal Driscoll, California representative of Alert Wildfire and professor of geosciences at UC San Diego, gave the keynote presentation at the symposium. Alert Wildfire is a system of pan-tilt-zoom cameras aimed at detecting wildfires throughout California, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Washington, according to Driscoll and the Alert Wildfire website.

“As we talk today, we are under a sizzling heat wave,” Driscoll said during the symposium. “The Palisade Fire happened just last (month) — in the West, we are under prolonged drought.”

Driscoll added that the distribution of cameras is determined by fire risk — the organization is projected to have about 1,000 cameras throughout California in the coming years.

Three cameras can triangulate a fire’s latitude and longitude to determine how to respond to a fire with either terrestrial or aerial firefighters, according to Driscoll.

Driscoll noted that while 911 emergency response is still the most effective alert system to respond to wildfires, artificial intelligence from Alert Wildfire is getting better at predicting and responding to wildfires.

Wildfires also burn a forest’s root systems, Driscoll said during the symposium. So, when the dry season passes and the wet season begins, mudslides become an imminent threat soil becomes destabilized without roots.

“We have a very strong team, we have many researchers from many UC campuses and we have strong links from beyond the UC system,” said Michael Goulden, UC Irvine professor of earth system science, during the symposium. “Our goal within the center is to develop the information to make a more balanced strategy to address myriad problems.”

Goulden, who spoke during the Modeling, Visualization and Big Data to Inform Risk Assessments and Decision-Making panel, is also the director of the Center for Ecosystem Climate Solutions, or CECS. CECS, according to its website, uses the vast amount of geospatial data available to inform and optimize land management policies.

During the symposium, Goulden said CECS will share everything it produces using a web-based visualization tool.

During the Understanding Wildfire and its Impact in California: Speeding the Science-to-Solution Pathway panel, UC Berkeley campus professor of environmental science, policy and management John Battles said California’s Mediterranean climate can model South America, Australia and much of Europe.

“Even in the most optimistic future projections, temperature is going to increase  we are facing megafires and megadroughts,” Battles said during the symposium. “This is a problem (seen) across California and Nevada, but these are problems that are shared in the Northwest, British Columbia and Alberta.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.