With the impact of global wildfires on businesses intensifying, the expected cost of the 2021 wildfire season is set to be between $70bn to $90bn in the U.S. alone. The risk posed by fires and their associated costs calls for near-real-time tracking & monitoring of fires. While this was not considered a necessity till now, in the aftermath of the 2021 wildfires season, accessing reliable and detailed data on fires has become a top priority for various stakeholders.
We, at Blue Sky Analytics, have been working on tracking fires before we were Blue Sky Analytics!
As we launch Zuri for tracking fires and associated emissions data (Daily. 375m2 spatial resolution. Global), we take a step back to reflect on the journey that got us here. This is what it looked like.
The Inception (2018-2019)
India faces a severe air pollution crisis every winter, especially in the northern belt. The team, then located in Gurugram and bearing the direct brunt of it, started exploring air quality data and wondered if there was a way to monitor the source of this pollution.
One major contributor to the smoggy skies of Delhi is the seasonal practice of stubble burning in the neighbouring agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana. While many point fingers, we realised there was negligible insights on these fires, their occurrence, frequency, area burnt and emissions.
We decided to leverage satellite data and appropriate models to monitor such fires in India.
The POC: Zuri β (2019)
Version 0 of Zuri came shortly after, with district-level data on fire count across India. The stubble burning season in north India is also marked by uncertainty in terms of responsibility i.e. which states are responsible for greater burning events.
The platform caught eyeballs as a source for governments and regulatory authorities to put these allegations to rest and act in an informed manner.
The First Validation (2019)
Fast Forward: 2 years down the line, we partnered with ESA’s SBIC at Noordwijk!
The Vision (2020)
The journey so far and the interactions we had along the way helped us identify an opportunity that our rapidly evolving tech infrastructure could tap - monitoring GHG emissions. In light of the increasing intensity and incidence of global fire events, we recognized the growing need to monitor emissions from these events. In the process, we discovered that there was a glaring paucity of a global, independent and dynamic emissions inventory.
This insight steered our vision to develop Zuri into a global, near-real-time and dynamic source of fires and associated emissions data that decision-makers have all the information to make informed choices and reduce emissions.
Joining Climate TRACE served as the first step towards actualizing this vision.
The First Deployment: Climate TRACE (2020 - present)
In July 2020, Blue Sky became a founding member of the Climate TRACE Coalition, led by US Ex-VP Al Gore. This was a full-circle moment for many members of the team, for whom Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was an introduction to the phenomenon of climate change.
Climate TRACE is a coalition of 9 organisations using satellite data and AI to track global, sector-wise, greenhouse gas emissions in an independent manner. Blue Sky’s Zuri was to provide the required data for fire emissions and this is when the global journey for Zuri began.
In an unprecedented turnaround time, in September 2021, we provided country-level annual data on fires and associate emissions to the Climate TRACE inventory and it has been an upward journey since.
The Expansion: Going Global (2022)
The vision for Zuri has evolved significantly, from being a solution to track air pollution sources in India to addressing the market gap in fire emissions data.
Fire emissions used to be difficult to track, and disparate; and the analysis was near impossible to scale. Compared to traditional static analysis or a one-time dataset developed through a research project for a limited geographical area, Zuri is a dynamic global dataset; compiled onto SpaceTime and APIs that act as a real-time record of fires and associated emissions.
Until Zuri, those looking for data on fires — politicians, corporations, economists, insurers, journalists and citizens — had to sift through disparate, outdated academic studies or pdfs for datasets that only came out quarterly or annually. Impartial, up-to-date, and accurate emissions data is imperative for the world’s decision-makers as they start accounting for climate risk in their risk portfolios and strive to achieve corporate and national net zero goals.
The Recognition (2022)
In May 2022, Fast Company announced Zuri as a finalist for the 2022 World-Changing Ideas Awards. This recognition is the latest feather in Blue Sky’s cap and means even more when we reflect on our journey.
Being a fairly young startup, yet being listed among industry giants like Microsoft and Novartis, is immensely encouraging and empowers us with even more zeal to keep chasing our dreams.