Supercomputing Sudden Firestorms

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Over at NICS, Scott Gibson writes that researchers are using supercomputers to model the spread of wildfires.

A scene from the Moore Branch fire in East Texas that occurred in September of 2000.

A scene from the Moore Branch fire in East Texas that occurred in September of 2000.

The scene at right depicts the catastrophic Moore Branch fire in East Texas that occurred in September of 2000. Using advanced computing resources from the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), researchers were able to do a preliminary evaluation of a combination fire–atmosphere computer model through idealized tests and an examination of data from the Moore Branch fire. Such a model, or approximation of real-world scenarios and conditions, could lead to the ability to accurately forecast sudden fire escalations that result from interactions between a wildfire and the atmosphere.

Models are great tools. They provide more information to fire managers for decision support, and that’s what it all comes down to,” says Brad Smith, a wildland fire analyst with the Texas A&M Forest Service, which provides statewide training, equipment, and support to local firefighting services and governments.

Smith sees the models as another important input in decision support, along with first-hand accounts, reports from a network of weather stations, reports on vegetation (fuels to the fire), maps, or other data. And although not everyone in firefighting is a believer yet in the use of computer model data for making fire-management decisions, Smith says acceptance is catching on.

We were able to run on hundreds, sometimes thousands, of processors, all working in tandem to solve the various equations, which are quite complex, both for the heat release from DEVS-FIRE and more particularly, the atmospheric response in ARPS,” Dahl explains. “Running all these processes in parallel on the XSEDE resources was the only way this problem was even doable in any reasonable amount of time; otherwise, it would have taken years, and instead we were able to run it in a matter of hours.”

The details of the investigation are contained in a paper titled “Coupled fire-atmosphere modeling of wildland fire spread using DEVS-FIRE and ARPS” published in Natural Hazards, Journal of the International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards.

Source: NICS.

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