National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA labs fight fire with simulation

July 19, 2016

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Los Alamos National Laboratory uses high-performance computing to simulate wildfire behavior.

Fire season is in full swing in the driest parts of the United States, and capabilities of NNSA’s labs are helping equip firefighters in the heated battle to save property and environment.

NNSA’s labs are perfectly suited to support emergency response related to fire. A long history of adapting to climate change has prepared NNSA researchers at NNSA labs for a cascade of climate related impacts: drought, wildfires, and historic flooding.

Strategies resulting from experience not only put powerful computing to work to simulate complex physical phenomena, but also increase coordination and communication between Federal, state, and local agencies in the regions surrounding NNSA’s labs. Preparedness through science-based strategies and communication processes help identify and aggressively manage risk from fire. 

One NNSA-lab-supported technology and company is helping model and predict where wildfires are most likely to spread or where traffic congestion will occur by projecting an interactive, three-dimensional model onto a tabletop sand surface. With algorithms that include camera-based object-tracking and projection developed by the lab, the emergency operations team can simulate a wildland fire spreading across any terrain. The system takes into account weather, vegetation and fuel conditions.

Learn more about NNSA’s simulation capabilities in advanced computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.

In 2011 a wildfire burned part of the Nevada National Security Site. One of the wildlife cameras caught the fire as it approached. The camera was destroyed but somehow the data card survived.