ESA selects CGI and University of Leicester for wildfire mapping project

25 February 2021 3 min. read

CGI has been awarded a European Space Agency contract to develop a new wildfire mapping service. The new role will see CGI combine the recent advances in technology to better map and monitor the impact of wildfire.

As climate change continues to progress at an alarming rate, the devastating impact of wildfires is becoming even more pronounced around the world. For example, more than 4.1 million acres burned across the state of California alone in 2020, while in northern Colorado, the Cameron Peak fire was the largest in Colorado’s recorded history, consuming over 206,000 acres in the mountains west and northwest of Fort Collins and Estes Park. Then, in Arizona, the 2020 wildfire season burned just under 955,000 acres, totalling more than double the 520,000 acres that burned in the 3,627 fires over the previous two years combined.

Added to the recent disasters in Australia and Southern Europe, these fires have exposed the environmental and human cost of wildfires.

CGI selected for wildfire mapping project

To improve how Europe can prepare for and mitigate wildfires, the European Space Agency has tapped IT consultancy CGI to develop a new wildfire mapping service that combines recent advances in Earth Observation, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to help better map and monitor the impact of wildfires.

Tara McGeehan, President at CGI in UK & Australia said, “We are excited to be part of this cutting-edge project that brings to bear the potential of AI to help the scientific and environmental community to better understand the extent and impact of damaging wildfires throughout the world. Our ongoing partnership with ESA for Earth Observation and Thematic Exploitation Platforms is enabling rapid progress in monitoring the Earth’s environment to support scientific research and government policy.”

With its project partner, the University of Leicester, CGI is now working with nationally mandated user organisations from Australia (Geoscience Australia) and France (ONF France) to implement and demonstrate EO services based on their requirements for improved wildfire risk management.

The consortium will evaluate a variety of AI algorithms that could help meet these requirements. It is expected that combining the machine learning capabilities of these AI algorithms with the increased availability of frequent, high quality satellite observations will allow better burnt area mapping products to be generated where and when users want them.

Kevin Tansey, Professor of Remote Sensing and Principal Investigator at the University of Leicester said, “After 20 years of research into the use of satellite data to measure burned area and severity from local to global scales, the opportunity to work with CGI and agency partners to develop new wildfire services is very exciting.”

According to a release from CGI, the resulting AI-enabled wildfire mapping service will be made available to Geoscience Australia and ONF France, as well as the wider environmental community, through the EO4SD Lab portal. This online data portal, which has been developed by CGI for ESA, utilises cloud computing to provide free access to a range of EO data, tools and services to the sustainable development and wider environmental community.

It is the latest in a long line of contract wins for CGI relating to the burgeoning space sector. In late 2020, for example, the ESA also commissioned the firm to develop an innovative AI enabled platform as part of its Autonomous Satcom Solutions programme in the satellite communications marketplace.