Lookouts in the Sky with Algorithms: Forecasting Air Quality with Satellite-sent Data

Lookouts in the Sky with Algorithms: Forecasting Air Quality with Satellite-sent Data

In the recent past, the job, before structures were built atop towers or mountains, required the lonely lookout to climb to the nearest ridge or peak after a thunderstorm, look for smoke, hike back down to the cabin, and telephone headquarters. Then, the lookout would have to grab gear and head out to fight the fire.

While watching for fires is older than our technologically complex era, our monitoring of this ancient phenomenon is still an incredibly recent undertaking. Fire predates the only species that can prevent, suppress, assess and manage it. We are continually reworking our relationship to fire, learning to live and coexist with fire. At the same time we strive to improve the way we get a handle on what fire is up to, where it is lurking, where it is bolting. Our farthest lookouts, set with the task of detecting fires, are orbiting above us—equipped with cameras and math—to relay data and equations so scientists can craft the answers. Wei Min Hao, Team Leader/Atmospheric Chemist with the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Fire Sciences Laboratory, along with his team, has produced techniques, algorithms and software for fire managers to use to get a handle on fire’s effects.

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