A Burning Passion

A Burning Passion

Gasia Atashaian is all about detecting forest fires before they destroy Armenia’s treasure

Winning Climate Tech Hackathon in 2018 was an unexpected turning point for Gasia Atashian in her quest to make Armenia’s forests safer and healthier. By using machine learning models and forest data, she was able to model the behavior of wildfires. “We realized we could do something more creative and innovative to detect wildfire behavior—not only to protect Armenia’s precious green spaces but also to help save the planet,” explains Atashian.

According to National Geographic statistics, over 100,000 wildfires destroy land each year, causing catastrophic environmental and costly damage. This makes Atashian’s data-driven company DataThon a welcome player in mitigating the consequences of uncontrolled conflagrations, based on predictive real-time tracking. Atashian says, “Climate-change related fires have no boundaries, which is why wildfire management systems like ours are needed to identify the direction and intensity of a fire’s spread.” Our research at DataThon also revealed that more than 60% of forest fires in Armenia were ignited by humans burning agricultural waste and, most concerning, negligently making fires for cooking or keeping warm in parks and recreational spaces. Something that small can cause large-scale destruction,” Atashian notes.

DataThon also discovered that Armenia’s energy crisis of the nineties accounts for a substantial loss of forest coverage—an estimated 30,000 hectares—due to chopping trees for heating fuel as a matter of survival. According to Atashian, this has made an irreversible impact on Armenia’s woodlands, specifically the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, one of the oldest protected areas in the world dating back over 1700 years. By delving into patterns from the past, DataThon can help unlock the causes and implications of forest damage. “As a computer scientist, I always look at the data to understand the history and, in turn, forecast the future.”

Atashian’s zeal for innovative data collection and predictive analysis ignited around the time she participated in the AGBU Europe’s Goriz Leadership Program, which she completed while pursuing her master’s degree in computer and information science at the American University of Armenia. “I’ve always wanted to be a change-maker and above all, learn from like-minded Armenian leaders. Goriz was an ideal vehicle to connect with global Armenian talent and learn from the best.” Meeting Armenian trailblazers just as passionate about developing Armenia is what fuels her passion. “Anyone concerned about the health of our planet should follow their convictions,” she advises. “At the end of the day, we all have to cooperate and collaborate to make the world more habitable.”

Clearly, Atashian’s single-minded focus is blazing a new trail to environmental protection.

Banner photo by Ed Carreon

Originally published in the November 2020 ​issue of AGBU Insider. end character

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AGBU Insider profiles extraordinary AGBU program alumni across a diverse set of industries and passions. With exclusive interviews and photography, each issue reveals the Armenian impact on society, community, and industry.