How to solve California’s wildfire Epidemic? Just wire up all trees with Big Data!

Environment | Sectors   |   
Published August 11, 2014   |   
Andrew Tarantola

California is currently in the grips of a major drought, one of the worst of this generation. The region’s lack of precipitation has not only hindered California’s agricultural industry, it’s also turned our forests into tinder. But researchers at the University of California San Diego have a potential solution: just wire up all the trees to the Internet of Things.

Wildfires are a common occurrence in California and, under normal conditions, play a vital role in maintaining the health of our forests by clearing out dead plants and trees, thereby freeing the nutrients locked within them. But thanks to a rapidly warming environment and a vicious drought, the rate and destructive ferocity of wildfires throughout the state have exploded in recent years.

They aren’t just burning out dead acreage anymore; they’ve decimated thousands of square miles of forest and suburbia. The Poinsettia Fire just outside San Diego in May scorched more than 2000 homes and caused upwards of $22 million in damages alone. That’s just one fire. And as of this post’s publication, the state is currently fighting three more.

And that’s where the WIFIRE system comes in. Developed by researchers at UCSD in collaboration with a team from the University of Maryland, and funded by a $2.6 million ongoing grant from the National Science Foundation, the scalable end-to-end cyberinfrastructure system is designed to monitor forest conditions, predict when and where a wildfire is most likely to occur, and and mitigate the damage they cause by alerting officials within seconds of their outbreak.

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