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How can satellites prevent wildfires?


Data on vegetation helps utility companies manage remote locations and allocate resources

Spotted: The catastrophic wildfires that burned across Canada for much of the summer of 2023 released around three times as many carbon emissions as the country itself usually does each year. Many fear that the fires were so damaging – and that the climate has warmed so much – that surrounding boreal forests won’t regrow, and that they will instead be replaced by more flammable mixes of vegetation. Hotter conditions and drier shrubbery, coupled with other man-made problems like faulty power lines, mean that such devastating wildfires could become a much more common occurrence in Canada and beyond. 

Finding ways to check on thousands of hectares of forested land is a challenge and one that satellite technology company Overstory is helping to solve. Remotely based across the United States and the Netherlands, Overstory provides high-resolution satellite imagery for utility line maintenance and forest fire prevention. 

The company’s platform combines expert data from arborists and forest professionals with machine learning that matches utility poles and lines with exact locations on satellite vegetation maps. It then calculates a risk score based on parameters specified by each client. Those reports help identify areas most at risk of hardware damage from vegetation growth, before outages occur or an electrical fire starts. Overstory also provides detailed information on the species, height, and density of trees along with data on other types of vegetation including grassland and bushes.  

Utility clients use the analysis to schedule line maintenance that addresses the most overgrown areas first, and Overstory works with organisations to tailor workplans to budget and labour constraints. For management of remote, wooded areas, Overstory’s imagery helps analysts identify areas most at risk of wildfire and put together mitigation plans appropriate for the species and weather of the area. Using the platform could increase vegetation trimming efficiency by up to 64 per cent and reduce the amount of time that utility services are interrupted by up to 46 per cent.  

Wildfires have become such an environmental threat that innovators are putting artificial intelligence (AI) to work in multiple ways to help catch threats early. Two examples from Springwise’s library include an AI-powered climate hazard risk score for specific locations and a solar-powered AI gas sensor.

Written By: Keely Khoury



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