Advanced air pollution warning system to predict stubble burning areas near Delhi

The system, which tracks crop burning using satellite data, can also forecast air pollution levels for next 72 hours

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 08 October 2019
Stubble burning. Photo: Getty Images

The Union Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) has launched an advanced Air Quality Early Warning System, which can predict places neighbouring Delhi that are likely to burn crop residue on a given day.

The system, developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, under MoES, uses data of stubble burning incidents from the past 15 years to predict the date and place of the next burning, and help authorities to act in advance.

“We have developed climatology of fire for last 15 years. So, we try to learn how many times an area has burned on a day and the average gives us a probability of that happening again,” said Sachin Ghude, lead scientist of the project.

“If the probability of an area is 60 per cent or more, we will give a forecast saying there’s a chance of a fire in that area. If it does not occur, then it will get corrected next day,” Ghude added.

Ghude said this is the first time that stubble burning is being forecast. “There have been forecast models for forest fires but for the first time we have come out with this,” he noted.

Using the data, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), under the aegis of the Central Pollution Control Board, creates probability maps to alert government agencies about areas where the chances of stubble burning is going to be high. 

The system can also track pollution load from stubble burning in places neighbouring the national capital, using satellite data. It can predict the air pollution level for next 72 hours. It can also forecast the level of pollutants like particulate matter (PM) 2.5, PM10, and dust, coming from sources other than stubble burning.

This will help authorities to take preventive steps to control pollution levels as well as mitigate pollution from existing sources.

To forecast pollution before it reaches Delhi, the scientists take satellite data of farm fires twice a day (at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm). The data is then fed into the model and the emissions in Delhi are then transmitted based on wind direction, explained Ghude.

“Current generation of satellites have made this possible. We are giving this forecast for two types of pollutants: PM2.5 and CO (Carbon Monoxide). This information is critical when we have a debate in Delhi that the pollution load is coming from other states,” Ghude said.

“So, we can clearly detect how much of PM2.5 is coming from stubble burning. This will also help when the authorities would want to target pollution sources; they will know whether to target Delhi sources of non-Delhi sources for the next three days,” he added.

The model was developed last year but was used internally. It can also be accessed by the public from website of MoES.

The website will also daily update fire count occurring around Delhi.

Every year between October and November, air quality deteriorates in Delhi and its neighbouring states, as farmers burn the residue after harvesting paddy to clear the fields and make way for the sowing of wheat, despite there being a ban on burning agricultural residue.

Smoke from Punjab and Haryana travels to Delhi leading to a spike in pollution levels.

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