MeteoGRID: “Better cartography helps to prevent fires”

Laura Asensio from Meteogrid

Laura Asensio Martínez has been working for MeteoGRID for more than three years as a project consultant. She knows what is important to make mountainous areas in Spain safer when it comes to forest fires. Her experience about climate risks in urban and forest regions brought her to become project manager and coordinator of the CLARITY project.

MeteoGRID is a private meteorological service in Madrid (Spain), contrary to the State Meteorological Agency Aemet. Aemet provides and generates gross data that MeteoGRID elaborates. MeteoGRID also does consultancy for other experts in Spain and Latin America. The company has around 50 employees as forest engineers, physicists, computer scientists, agronomists, experts in cartography and GIS environments, meteorologists, and geographers, who focus more on prevention and risk management than on weather forecast. Since 2004, the company develops meteorological services and apps to protect the infrastructure, environment, and civilization. They participate in many European projects such as “spitfire”, “wuiwatch” or “sunshine”. But they also work for projects in Nicaragua and Honduras. In Central America employees developed a geographical system that warns when there was an upcoming natural catastrophe always with the focus on climate change risks. In Colombia they had another project analyzing indices for flooding and historical data, called "Studies of greenhouse gases (GHG) and climate change and urban development for the city of Popayán and the functional area of Sincelejo-Corozal (Colombia)". Therefore, they talked to experts about dangers or vulnerabilities so that it could be avoided to build a new house in an area that might be flooded in the near future. If there were already houses with people living, MeteoGRID helped to resettle these persons.


Meteogrid Fire Simulation

In the case of extreme weather events MeteoGRID has created a risk map that analyses affected areas where you can see fire simulations, local wind, spreading plumes, contaminants, and flood areas. The dryest areas don't mean to be the most susceptible ones for fire because there is less biomass than in the areas with more precipitation. Apart from that, MeteoGRID has developed the meteorological forecast system “SIGYM-3” that is suitable for forest fire prevention and fire-fighting operations. The Geographic Information System (GIS) does weather forecasting but also early warnings. Another product they made was “Eterio”, which is a wind modeling system for forest fires that looks at the spreading of bird-plumes and contaminants and where the birds fly in combination with eolic parks.


Map (c) Meteogrid

Due to climate change the number of droughts and heat periods rises - so the risk for forest fires increases. Also, the strong summer storm “Levante” fuels and spreads the fire sparks each year. Since the 1960s forest fires have quadruplicated in the Mediterranean region. In Spain there were 1.680 forest fires in 1961 and 25.827 in 1995. The average until 2015 was 13.131 fires per year. In Portugal the situation has become even worse in the past years. Actually, in Galicia or Castilla-León the same could happen because there is also a lot of combustible growing: Eucalyptus. However, it still seems like politicians are surprised by the fires eventhough they burst every year and kill thousands of species. Only 4 % of all forest fires worldwide happen because of nature as for example lightnings. Usually it’s the fault of humans. Burnt areas are very difficult to reforest. If reforestation is successful, it takes at least a decade to become a diverse forest again. But not uncommonly the burnt ecosystems are irretrievably lost.


In the CLARITY project Laura Asensio works with eight other collegues on solutions how to save the Spanish transportation network in terms of fire. She has had the main fruitful discussions with the partners Acciona and Cedex. The decision for CLARITY was to choose a little section (73 km) of the highway A 2 between Madrid and Barcelona as a subset of
the network of highways and railways in all of Spain. On part of the highways you can find forests on the side where forest fires would be an extreme danger for the Spanish traffic network and population. MeteoGRID’s task is to determine the risk of a fire, to look at the vegetation, at the smoke of fires, and at the combustible growing. Therefore, they also do a lot of field work. The smart use of their existing climate knowledge might increase general infrastructures resilience, not only in Spain but in Europe in general.

After the next workshop at the end of 2018 you will find more information about this topic here.

Forest Fire in Spain close to the road (c) Shutterstock

City Profile - Madrid

Madrid, with 3.2.Mio inhabintants, is the capital of Spain and the third biggest city of the EU and South Europe. The average temperature in winter is around 7.7 degrees and during the hot summer months around 22 degrees. With about 2,769 hours of sun Madrid is one of the sunniest cities in Europe. Madrid is the industrial centre but it also has a dominant service sector.

Madrid used to be more a centre of consumption than of trade or production after it became the capital of Spain. The economy had to supply Madrid's rapidly growing population. The industrial sector did not develop until the 20th century. In Madrid bullfights still take place regularly, sometimes even a few times a week. 

Personal hint: This city really knows how to live - and you should experience it with some tapas and a "Tinto de Verano" (refreshing red wine with lemon soft drink). If you need a break from the vivid center, go to "Parque del Buen Retiro" ("Park to have a good rest").