ISU Conference: Importance of Satellite Technologies in Bushfires

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The importance of satellite technologies in bushfires discussed by world experts at
ISU Conference.

Satellites played a critical role in assisting the response of emergency services to catastrophic bushfires across Australia’s south and south-east, as well as in monitoring the fire damage, but challenges remain in optimising the usefulness of satellite information.

The inaugural International Space University (ISU) Adelaide Conference which took place from 31 January to 02 February 2020, included a top-level expert panel discussion on the potential to use satellite technologies to greater effect in anticipating and combating bushfires and some potential solutions that are available in the near term were also discussed.

The conference was opened by the Premier of South Australia Hon Steven Marshall MP. Held in collaboration with the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre Distinguished Lecture Series (see, the Conference theme was Small Satellite Technologies and Earth Observation Applications: Solutions and Possibilities.

A specially convened panel of international experts included:

  • Dr. Sachidananda Babu, NASA Earth Sciences
  • Ms. Katherine Bennell, Australian Space Agency and ISU alumna
  • Adjunct Prof. David Bruce, University of South Australia and ISU Faculty
  • Prof. Andy Koronios, SmartSAT Cooperative Research Centre, Australia
  • Dr. John Nairn, Australian Bureau of Meteorology
  • Dr. Charles Norton, NASA HQ, Washington
  • Dr. Sarah Pearce, Australian CSIRO Research Centre and ISU alumna

As part of a stimulating and wide-ranging discussion, the panel of Australian and international experts suggested a range of short- and medium-term initiatives aimed at improving the usefulness of satellite data in anticipating the spread and impact of bushfires.

Topics discussed included:

  • Satellite sensors to enable the detection of bushfire smoke at the earliest stages of an outbreak
  • Networks of low-cost sensor devices to monitor in near real-time the spread and intensity of fires
  • Converting satellite data to information that would help emergency services to make split-second operational decisions
  • The public health implications of exposure to bushfire smoke (including the little discussed high casualty rate from smoke inhalation).

Commenting on the significance of the panel discussion, the President of ISU, Mr Juan de Dalmau, noted that this conference was an important example of how the International Space University plays a vital role in bringing together international experts taking an inter-disciplinary approach to identifying and solving complex social and technological challenges. The CEO of the SmartSat CRC, Professor Andy Koronios, added that “this panel of national and international experts identified issues and made practical suggestions that can have a material impact on how we plan, predict, respond and recover from catastrophic emergencies such as our current bushfires.”

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