Canadian Forest Service Publications

A review of machine learning applications in wildfire science and management. 2020. Jain, P.; Coogan, S.C.P.; Subramanian, S.G.; Crowley, M.; Taylor, S.; Flannigan, M.G. Environmental Reviews 28(4):478-505.

Year: 2020

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 40948

Language: English

Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/er-2020-0019

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Mark record


Artificial intelligence has been applied in wildfire science and management since the 1990s, with early applications including neural networks and expert systems. Since then, the field has rapidly progressed congruently with the wide adoption of machine learning (ML) methods in the environmental sciences. Here, we present a scoping review of ML applications in wildfire science and management. Our overall objective is to improve awareness of ML methods among wildfire researchers and managers, as well as illustrate the diverse and challenging range of problems in wildfire science available to ML data scientists. To that end, we first present an overview of popular ML approaches used in wildfire science to date and then review the use of ML in wildfire science as broadly categorized into six problem domains, including (i) fuels characterization, fire detection, and mapping; (ii) fire weather and climate change; (iii) fire occurrence, susceptibility, and risk; (iv) fire behavior prediction; (v) fire effects; and (vi) fire management. Furthermore, we discuss the advantages and limitations of various ML approaches relating to data size, computational requirements, generalizability, and interpretability, as well as identify opportunities for future advances in the science and management of wildfires within a data science context. In total, to the end of 2019, we identified 300 relevant publications in which the most frequently used ML methods across problem domains included random forests, MaxEnt, artificial neural networks, decision trees, support vector machines, and genetic algorithms. As such, there exists opportunities to apply more current ML methods — including deep learning and agent-based learning — in the wildfire sciences, especially in instances involving very large multivariate datasets. We must recognize, however, that despite the ability of ML models to learn on their own, expertise in wildfire science is necessary to ensure realistic modelling of fire processes across multiple scales, while the complexity of some ML methods such as deep learning requires a dedicated and sophisticated knowledge of their application. Finally, we stress that the wildfire research and management communities play an active role in providing relevant, high-quality, and freely available wildfire data for use by practitioners of ML methods.