With heatwaves seemingly becoming the new ‘norm’, King’s experts from the Department of Geography and the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society are working on better detection and monitoring of fires – and on helping estimate the effect of the smoke on air quality and people’s health.
The work is part of FirEUrisk, a European-funded project that fosters knowledge transfer between European countries, with the aim of preventing and managing the threat posed by major wildfires.
Professor Martin Wooster said: "This project aims to deliver a step-change in how wildfires are managed across Europe. Particularly bad fires are unfortunately quite frequent in parts of southern Europe such as Portugal and Spain, but hotter, drier conditions in the UK and Northern Europe may see more fires in those environments as well."
With the wealth of expertise at King’s in this area, we’re able to contribute vital capabilities such as how to use satellites for the early detection and ongoing monitoring of wildfire events. Working with others, we can also better understand how the smoke from these fires affects the health of the location population, which can be quite significant even hundreds of kilometres downwind.– Professor Martin Wooster, Professor of Earth Observation Science at King’s and Associate Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society.
Aided by European satellites, the King’s team uses algorithms developed and honed over many years to translate the raw satellite data into digestible information, which supports the early detection and ongoing monitoring of fires across Europe.
They are also able to use the satellite data to estimate the amount of smoke released by the fires the impact this has on the quality of the air people breathe and how this air pollution affects people’s health.
Across Europe as a whole, there is currently a lack of consistency in terms of wildfire preparedness, operational experience, equipment and training. Lessons learned from countries like Portugal and Spain, which regularly see severe wildfire activity, can help the UK and Northern Europe strengthen its risk management policies on wildfires.
“We need to ensure that all of Europe is a safe area where citizens, and in the face of extreme fires, do not have to face material or human losses.” – FirEUrisk coordinator, Dr Domingos Xavier Viegas from the University of Coimbra (Portugal).
The FirEUrisk project is a multi-million Euro project made up of 39 expert partners. It aims to develop guidelines, directives and recommendations that can be adopted by all European countries.
King’s is a partner in the £10 million Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, providing scientific understanding on what drives landscape fire around the world and how they interact with both environment and society.