World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Nature -

For years, no weather model could ac­cu­rately pre­dict how a bush­fire would spread. That’s be­cause the fires heat up the air so much that it moves 1,000 times faster than air cur­rents warmed by the sun. These move­ments were too much for com­put­ers. But now French re­searcher Jean-bap­tiste Filippi and his team have de­vel­oped a model us­ing a su­per­com­puter that will be the first of its kind. The al­go­rithms will make it pos­si­ble to sim­u­late ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing on the fire front­line, as well as cal­cu­lat­ing which plants will burn more quickly than oth­ers and whether the fire is still spread­ing or has been ex­tin­guished. The cru­cial fac­tor is the ef­fect of the fires on the weather. “The heat of the fire gen­er­ates an ex­tremely pow­er­ful move­ment of air, with wind speeds of 50 me­tres per sec­ond,” says Filippi. “As a re­sult, large clouds form in the at­mos­phere, which can even lead to rain.” On the other hand, cool air cur­rents can cause strong winds of about 100km/h, which then fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate the fire. “We can use the model to es­ti­mate where the smoke of a freshly ig­nited fire will waft and where we can def­i­nitely not al­low a large fire to de­velop,” ex­plains Filippi. “That means we will know in ad­vance where we need to lay fire­breaks.”

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