Student internship experience with the UKFDRS project, summer 2022

By Andrei Badea, 2nd year Geography student, University of Manchester

I applied to this internship in March 2022 as part of my professional placement programme, hoping I could get some practical experience within the GIS industry and become more familiar with research practises as part of a nationwide project. I was happy to have been accepted on the internship by such an enthusiastic team, and I remember the day when I got to sit at my desk for the first time. It was an awesome feeling, because I had never done an internship before, especially on a topic closely related to my degree!

In the first week, I did some training courses about StoryMaps, ArcGIS Pro & Online, and Creating a Web Map, all by ESRI Academy. These assessed courses have helped me so much in my role, as they gave me the confidence to start experimenting with the StoryMap builder myself, and to do spatial analyses on ArcGIS Pro to find ways of improving a masters student’s research on wildfires in the Cairngorms National Park. My colleagues also made available readings on wildfire research, which made my work very pleasurable and resourceful, and little did I know I would meet some of the papers’ authors via Zoom! I had the opportunity to join two external meetings with my colleagues, UKFDRS partner universities, and Forestry Commission representatives, and it was inspiring to see what everyone was working on through team discussions and presentations. I also had the chance to contact external partners such as Julia McMorrow and other researchers via email, in order to obtain information on the Swinley Forest Wildfire Threat Analysis study they developed. Together, these actions enabled me to enhance my critical thinking, interpersonal skills and active listening skills. I also strengthened my hard skills by taking up multiple challenges in ArcGIS Pro week by week. Some of them included learning about the geoprocessing tools available on the software and the limitations related to previous research, and extracting data from Digimap on population and land cover.

While not all of these tasks went smoothly all the time, I managed to complete them in the end, with the help of my team. I needed to create pivot tables in Excel for two graphs on the evolution of wildfires in the Cairngorms, which is something I had never worked with before. I am grateful to have got the help of my colleague Jack, who was happy to explain every step to me patiently. Another rather stressful task I needed to complete was transferring sensitive data from my personal ArcGIS Online account to the organisation’s account, but thanks to Gail’s support (my supervisor), the action was completed successfully.

On the social side of my experience, it was exciting to be surrounded by friendly people in the office. Ana-Maria and Gareth made sure I had everything I needed to do my work with peace of mind, and they have been very supportive regarding my progress on the Cairngorms StoryMap I created for the project.

Now that I have completed this internship, I am excited to say I have become interested to explore more of what the GIS industry has to offer, and study UI/UX Design and Writing for the Web for academic and personal purposes. This opportunity has also motivated me to use GIS as a method for my dissertation plans in third year.

Perhaps one suggestion for future internships on this project would be to include photo editing training as part of the tasks to be completed in the first week of work. Other than that, I am delighted to have been part of the UKFDRS team, as they did a great job with keeping the interns active and excited about a topic of such great importance to the UK, especially in light of the recent heatwaves that have impacted the country this summer.

Thank you Gail, Ana-Maria, Gareth, and Jack for your kindness and support! I hope our paths will cross again in the future!

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Note from Gareth – it was a pleasure to have you working with us over the summer. Thanks for your reflections on your experience – apologies it took me a while to upload it to the website!

Andrei was supported by a University of Manchester Student Experience Internship

Wareham Forest: a case study

By Rayanne Vitali, University of Exeter

In the early hours of the 18th May 2020 a wildfire broke out at Wareham Forest in Dorset, South West England. The forest is an area consisting of open heathland and woodland dominated largely by Corsican and Scots Pine, with around a third of the 1542 hectares designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The blaze lasted close to two weeks and damaged approximately 220 hectares of land, requiring the assistance of over 150 firefighters before the fire was extinguished, gaining the interest of national news (e.g. BBC, The Metro).

Since the fire, the Exeter team has visited the site on several occasions in order to build a picture of what went on by using post-fire forensic approaches. Through using identifiers such as bark char patterns, needle freeze and Fern bends together with analysing charcoal reflectance, the team have been compiling a dataset of wind direction, fire direction and fire intensity at different locations through the forest. Fire severity and regrowth over time has also been monitored throughout the visits. Preliminary plots of the dataset agree with what was observed at the time of the fire and offers an opportunity to develop a nice case study of wildfires in the UK.

Alongside other the other work packages in the UKFDRS project the data from the Wareham Forest fire provides a study of fire behaviour for key fuel types and an understanding of site-level fuel structure. This information will be used to help construct fuel models and to evaluate the predictive capability of fire behaviour models ultimately help towards building a UK Fire Danger Rating System.

Quantifying the Chobham Common Burnt Area with Sentinel-2 images

Many thanks to Gail for this write up of this image acquisition

The Incident

On Friday 7 August 2020 a wildfire began to burn on Chobham Common an area of heathland in Surrey. The wildfire required multiple fire crews to fight the flames and the incident halted the Rose Ladies Series Grand Final at Wentworth Golf Club (BBC News, 2020). The wildfire continued to burn and then smoulder for the next four days until it was announced on 11 August 2020 that the fire was “under control” with the incident officially closed on 17 August 2020 (SurreyLive, 2020).

Sourcing Sentinel 2 pre-fire image

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite data provided an excellent insight into the amount of heathland burned during the Chobham Common wildfire. The last pre-fire cloud free Sentinel-2 image was acquired 30 July 2020 at 11:06am (Figure 1A) and shows the undisturbed heathland vegetation north of the M3. There was other Sentinel-2 data acquired on 04 August 2020 and 06 August 2020 but unfortunately the Chobham Common area was not visible due to cloud cover. Sentinel-2A and -2B data consist of 13 spectral bands. Figure 1A shows 30 July true colour composite which uses spectral bands 4 (red), 3 (green) and 2 (blue) to create a pre-fire image.

Figure 1 (a) Pre-fire true colour image, (b) post-fire image of Chobham Common fire

Burned area images during the wildfire event

Figure 1B shows the first Sentinel-2 true colour image during the wildfire acquired 9 August 2020 at 11:06am (2 days into the wildfire event). The burnt area can be clearly seen with the black to dark grey tones and the burn scar perimeter has been digitised to provide a quantification of total area burned at ~69 hectares.

A false colour composite was also produced using spectral bands 8 (near infrared), 4 (red), 3 (green) assigned to the red, green and blue colour channels (Figure 2). The burn scar area can clearly be delineated in dark grey tones from the surrounding healthy vegetation visualised in red tones. Healthy vegetation reflects near infrared radiation which in this colour composite has been assigned to the red channel. Whereas the red and green wavelengths (bands 4 and 3) assigned to the green and blue channels are absorbed by healthy vegetation as part of the photosynthesis process. The buildings in the landscape are depicted in cyan blue tones and show how close they are relative to the burned area.  

Figure 2. False colour composite of the Chobham Common burn scar

The wildfire was under control on the 11 August and ideally Sentinel-2 data covering Chobham Common on that day would have been very useful to compare with the 9 August image. Unfortunately the swath of the 11 August 2020 13:41 Sentinel-2A image acquisition just missed the Chobham Common area and image acquisitions thereafter on 14 and 16 August 2020 have been covered by cloud. A Landsat 8 image acquired on 12 August 2020 shows no change in burned area extent since the Sentinel-2 9 August image. Therefore, the 69 hectares measured on 9 August 2020 looks to be a good overall quantification of burned area for this incident. It is worth noting this figure is 133 hectares lower than the estimated area burned of 202 hectares (500 acres) headlined on 17 August 2020 when the incident was closed (SurreyLive, 2020).

References

BBC News (2020) Chobham Common wildfire evacuation warning [Online]. BBC. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-53700404 (Accessed 19 August 2020).

SurreyLive (2020) Chobham Common incident closed 10 days after wildfire broke out [Online]. SurreyLive. Available from https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/chobham-common-incident-closed-10-18784980 (Accessed 19 August 2020).