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UC San Diego mapping California's topography to document future wildfire impacts

Posted at 5:33 PM, Aug 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 20:33:09-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Scientists at UC San Diego are continuing to further research that helps protect against wildfires, now mapping the topography of the state to compare to future maps and see how weather events have changed the state.

Professor of Geology and Geophysics Neal Driscoll has been developing the ALERTwildfire camera system, which has more than 1,000 cameras positioned around the state that monitor current conditions and can detect a fire as soon as it starts, helping speed up response time.

Now, Driscoll has a new focus. He and his team are mapping the current topography of California as a way to document exactly what the state looks like now so that if and when natural disasters strike, scientists will be able to look at before and after imagery to understand the implications of those events.

“This is really critical, this is our baseline so we can start studying and using these data to better understand wildfire behavior. Better understand recovery,” said Driscoll.

He said events including wildfires to extreme rain events to debris flows can change the topography. After an event, there can be lingering impacts, including how burn scars erode, sediment that disperses into water supplies, lingering impacts on air quality, etc.

“We’re really trying to understand the three legs of the stool. Pre-fire, during fire, and post-fire. And how does that impact the landscapes, bio habitats, as well as water and air quality,” he said.

They’re currently creating that baseline map and are almost done with phase one, which is mapping the Sierras. Phase two will map the coast and phase three will map Northern California. Both phases two and three were planned to last one year each, but Driscoll said with worsening wildfire seasons, he knows how crucial it is to get the data mapped now, so they’re hoping to get them both done in the next year.

“Every year we’re getting the largest fire ever and the extreme climate we’re in does not promise that these droughts are going to end any time soon,” said Driscoll.