Because the model works based on simple rules, it doesn’t require a lot of computational power – running it 100 times takes just 5 seconds on a regular laptop. “So you run many of them, and then you put everything together,” Rein said. “And then you’ll see these probability maps: Where burns fastest, where it burns strongest.” Rein can still add other variables like wind and terrain, and even roads and rivers act as flames. “You can literally complicate it as much as you want, and it’ll still be really, really fast,” he said. Because those cells operate individually and collectively according to certain rules, together they induce the behavior of peat fires in the real world.
But as the old saying goes: All models are wrong, but some models are useful. There is no way Rein and his colleagues could perfectly simulate the smoldering peat fire, with the galaxy having many variables involved. So for their new study, they compared their simulated fire to what they and other scientists observed with controlled burns performed experimentally on experimental burns. Realistic peat land. They also got drone footage showing the spread of a peat fire in Indonesia in 2015. Undoubtedly, their model combined with real-world observations of how coal fires were. mud spreads and sometimes individual fires in a landscape combine to form many larger fires. “That was predicted by the model,” Rein said. “Of course, we think that in science you can always develop any model, but this one already has a considerable degree of reliability.”
McMaster University ecologist Mike Waddington, who studies peat but was not involved in the study, agrees. “Researchers have long known that as peatlands dry out, they will switch from flare-ups to flare-ups,” he said. “And this study, for the first time, has modeled how peat fires burn and spread to better estimate how much of that critical humidity is.” The model also helps researchers understand how burnt peat “transitions” from smoldering in the ground to burning surface vegetation, then digging deep into the soil again.
Such zombie fires broke out earlier this year in the Netherlands. “They caught fire for three days, and they dispatched a large number of firefighters in the Netherlands,” Rein said. After the firefighters left, he said, the zombie fire had “turned smoldering, but no one noticed. And weeks later, the smoldering turned to flames seven times. So neighbors kept calling the firefighters. The firefighters were very confused.