UAS Developments Supporting Wildfire Observations
Abstract:Wildfires are regularly occurring emergency events that threaten life, property, and natural resources in every U.S. State and many countries around the world. Despite projections that $1.8 billion will be spent by U.S. Federal agencies alone on wildfires in 2014, the decades-long trend of increasing fire size, severity, and cost is expected to continue. Furthermore, the enormous potential for UAS (and concomitant sensor systems) to serve as geospatial intelligence tools to improve the safety and effectiveness of fire management, and our ability to forecast fire and smoke movements, remains barely tapped.
Although orbital sensor assets are can provide the geospatial extent of wildfires, generally those resources are limited in use due to their spatial and temporal resolution limitations. These two critical elements make orbital assets of limited utility for tactical, real-time wildfire management, or for continuous scientific analysis of the temporal dynamics related to fire energy release rates and plume concentrations that vary significantly thru a fire’s progression. Large UAS platforms and sensors can and have been used to monitor wildfire events at improved temporal, spatial and radiometric scales, but more focus is being placed on the use of small UAS (sUAS) and sensors to support wildfire observation strategies. The use of sUAS is therefore more critical for TACTICAL management purposes, rather than strategic observations, where small-scale fire developments are critical to understand.
This paper will highlight the historical development and use of UAS for fire observations, as well as the current shift in focus to smaller, more affordable UAS for more rapid integration into operational use on wildfire events to support tactical observation strategies, and support wildfire science measurement inprovements.