RIT Scientists Participate in Wildfire Testing in Florida and Georgia

U.S. Forest Service collects data from controlled burns

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Scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology are helping the U.S. Forest Service collect information about wildfire behavior, atmospheric dynamics and fire effects in controlled burns in Florida and Georgia.

Robert Kremens, senior scientist, and Jason Faulring, systems integration engineer, in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science have joined U.S. Forest Service fire managers and researchers from the around the country for wildfire experiments at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and at the Jones Ecological Research Center near Newton, Ga. The fire observations began last week and will continue until March 8.

Researchers are using a variety of ground-based and airborne instruments to observe the controlled fires. Data collected from the experiments will help fire managers model and predict the behavior of fires influenced by fuel type, fuel loading, local weather and other variables.

RIT participation includes the development and deployment of several critical ground-based sensor systems and an airborne fire-mapping camera system. Pre-positioned ground-based sensors monitor various fire parameters as the fire progresses, says Donald McKeown, distinguished researcher in RIT’s Laboratory for Imaging Algorithms and Systems.

Faulring operates the fire-mapping camera system from the back of a small aircraft flying over the fires and continuously photographs the progress of the burn. The camera is a lightweight version of the wildfire airborne sensor program RIT developed for the U.S. Forest Service, and is dubbed “WASP-Lite.” It is equipped with color and thermal infrared cameras and an inertial navigation system to precisely map fire location. The WASP-Lite sensor is installed in an aircraft provided by Kucera International, an aerial mapping company, McKeown says.

Other organizations involved in the testing include U.S. Air Force Natural Resources Management, Jones Ecological Research Center Nature Conservancy, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Florida State University, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S. Forest Service, San Jose State University and the National Institute of Standards and Testing.