Pyroecoinformatics - A Decade of Lessons Learned Using Artificial Intelligence to Map Fire Fuels and Post-Fire Effects

Mistakes are as much an opportunity to learn as successes are. Unlike Apollo 13, Computer Science majors at Northwest Nazarene University learn that failure is only a problem if students repeatedly experience the same failure.

NNU CS majors find no better environment in which to Fail Boldly than Dr Hamilton’s Fire Mapping and Assessment Platform (FireMAP) laboratory. While Dr Hamilton and his students have experienced many breakthroughs in a decade of computational fire ecology research, they have also experienced many failures along the way. Some of the successes include early use of machine learning to map fire fuels and burn severity from hyperspatial drone imagery, hosting the first remotely accessed fire camera in the state of Idaho, and transition of our mapping analytics in support of US Forest Service archaeological reporting requirements. Some of our failures have informed us in efficient ways to store spatiotemporal big data, additional data needs for training ignition training AI and unrealized data needs for fire fuel mapping. The NNU FireMAP project has provided countless NNU Computer Science majors with opportunities to hone their software engineering skills working on cutting edge, real world applications of artificial intelligence to big data.

This failure leveraging environment has enabled graduating Computer Science majors to be ready to excel in careers where failure less of an option, such as recent NNU CS alumni Aaron Borger who is now an avionics software engineer working on main engines at SpaceX.

About the speaker

Associate Professor of Computer Science Dr Dale Hamilton has been a member of the faculty of Northwest Nazarene University since 2013. His courses include:

Computer Programming 1 (C/C++)​Spatial Analysis
Machine Learning​​​Web Development
Artificial Intelligence​​​Event Driven Programming
Parallel Computation​​​Computer Architecture  
Big Data Management​​Algorithms Design and Analysis
Data Structures

In 2018, Dr Hamilton was tasked with adding a Data Science concentration to NNU’s Computer Science degrees.  The addition of that concentration has involved the development of courses in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Parallel Computation, Big Data Management and Spatial Analysis.  As the 2023-2024 academic year starts, Dr Hamilton will become Chair of the NNU Department of Math and Computer Science.

In addition to teaching, Dale is the Primary Investigator on NNU’s NASA/US Forest Service funded FireMAP project which is using Machine Learning and unmanned aircraft system (drones)  tomap wildland fire extent and severity, research which was included in his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Idaho, which was awarded in 2018.  Dale has led the expansion of the FireMAP research program to include a collaborative relationship with the USDA Forest Service which has enabled NNU and the Forest Service to map archaeological features across the Boise National Forest.  Since 2020, Dale has also collaborated with Frontier Development Lab, an AI research incubator leading research teams who have used AI to map wildfires from satellite imagery across the US and Australia.  Dale was a Team Lead for the 2020 FDL Australia Bushfire Data Quest as well as the 2022 FDL US Wildfire Challenge (funded by the US Department of Energy).  

Prior to coming to Northwest Nazarene University, Dale spent 13 years as a Lead Software Engineer/Project Manager at Systems for Environmental Management, writing software modeling fire behavior and effects, ecological departure and remote sensing under contracts with the USDA Forest Service and US Department of Interior.  

Prior to going to SEM, Dale worked for Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company for 5 years writing Computer Aided Software Engineering Tools.  After Boeing Dale worked for 10 years at the University of Montana and Systems and Computer Technology (SCT) writing Oracle applications supporting the administrative computing needs of various universities.  Dale spent an additional year working for Fireball IT Solutions writing software to control a helicopter mounted infrared camera used for mapping wildland fires.  Dale also worked for a year with Visual Learning Systems writing ArcGIS based tools that use artificial intelligence to extract features from raster imagery.