Towards predictive data-driven simulations of wildfire spread – Part I: Reduced-cost Ensemble Kalman Filter based on a Polynomial Chaos surrogate model for parameter estimation
Abstract. This paper is the first part in a series of two articles and presents a data-driven wildfire simulator for forecasting wildfire spread scenarios, at a reduced computational cost that is consistent with operational systems. The prototype simulator features the following components: an Eulerian front propagation solver FIREFLY that adopts a regional-scale modeling viewpoint, treats wildfires as surface propagating fronts, and uses a description of the local rate of fire spread (ROS) as a function of environmental conditions based on Rothermel's model; a series of airborne-like observations of the fire front positions; and a data assimilation (DA) algorithm based on an ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) for parameter estimation. This stochastic algorithm partly accounts for the nonlinearities between the input parameters of the semi-empirical ROS model and the fire front position, and is sequentially applied to provide a spatially uniform correction to wind and biomass fuel parameters as observations become available. A wildfire spread simulator combined with an ensemble-based DA algorithm is therefore a promising approach to reduce uncertainties in the forecast position of the fire front and to introduce a paradigm-shift in the wildfire emergency response. In order to reduce the computational cost of the EnKF algorithm, a surrogate model based on a polynomial chaos (PC) expansion is used in place of the forward model FIREFLY in the resulting hybrid PC-EnKF algorithm. The performance of EnKF and PC-EnKF is assessed on synthetically generated simple configurations of fire spread to provide valuable information and insight on the benefits of the PC-EnKF approach, as well as on a controlled grassland fire experiment. The results indicate that the proposed PC-EnKF algorithm features similar performance to the standard EnKF algorithm, but at a much reduced computational cost. In particular, the re-analysis and forecast skills of DA strongly relate to the spatial and temporal variability of the errors in the ROS model parameters.