San Diego Supercomputer could forecast wildfires' path

SAN DIEGO - Scientists at the San Diego Supercomputer Center are studying how to better predict where wildfires will spread and how fast.

The center celebrated its 30th anniversary Wednesday. As part of the event, it also launched Comet – the new and improved version that is two million times faster than its existing supercomputer. It's one of the fastest and smartest computers in the country. 

“Two quadrillion calculations per second, which is an enormous amount,” said director Michael Norman. 

With that power and speed, scientists are working on a way to forecast wildfires just like we do with storms.

"Wildfire management efforts are catching up with that,” said Ilkay Altintas, a researcher and principal investigator of WIFIRE. 

Altintas says firefighting models are already being used. But what's lacking is a system like WIFIRE that can integrate multiple real-time tools such as live webcams, satellite data and weather information. Then, process it and spit out a model that shows where the fire will spread and how fast. 

"Even if you cannot stop the fire, you can have predictive models showing where the fire will be in the next hour, the next two hours,” said Altintas.

That's super fast considering right now, it can take several hours or days to come up with fire models and they're not as accurate as the ones WIFIRE would be able to produce.

"They can make decisions on where to put their fire management efforts, more clearly define what neighborhoods need evacuation, and they can make more accurate on what the damage will be,” said Altintas. 

It’s crucial information accessible to only firefighters but perhaps one day, will come in a more user-friendly format, for the general public. 

The director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center pointed out how supercomputers touch every part of our lives. He says without them, we wouldn’t have the Boeing 777, which was designed on a supercomputer. Or Lithium Ion batteries which is in everything from laser pointers to Tesla cars. Those were optimized on supercomputers. And Genomic analysis which is also being worked out on supercomputers.

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