Using AI to Understand Climate Change

There is no Planet B photo by Markus Spiske on unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on unsplash

When people talk about climate change, they tend to focus on the physical aspects of climate, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or temperatures and precipitation levels, and even wind patterns. “But these characteristics are all shaped by a living planet that is constantly changing. If you took life off planet Earth, it would have a very different environment,” said Jim Bellingham, a pioneer in autonomous underwater robotics systems and executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy. You can read more about how Bellingham believes that AI can actually combat climate change.

Karen McKinnon of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability believes that “the climate is changing faster than before”. She adds, “machine learning could be a key to understanding how – and to what extent”. In a 2022 BCG survey report on Climate AI, 87% of both private and public CEOs believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an important tool in our fight against climate change.

Effectively, a growing number of scientists and industry experts from different disciplines use their knowledge to protect our planet. Jim Bellingham of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy says that AI technology can be used to “factor in elements of climate change that are constantly evolving and help us make more informed predictions about changes in the environment…”. 

How do we apply AI technology to understand and combat climate change? Here are 3 applications.

Three Applications of AI in Climate Change

  1. Analyzing Climate Data

Climate change is a complex problem – simply because of its wide number of data variables. Climate-related datasets are vast and complex – and take significant time to manually collect and analyze. Beyond the physical metrics like the level of carbon dioxide, global temperatures and precipitation, scientists need to deal with a constantly changing planet.

AI solutions can help scientists quickly collect and analyze real-time climate data – and implement climate-friendly policies. Besides, AI-based data models can monitor constant climate changes and make accurate climate predictions for improved mitigation efforts.

  1. Predicting Extreme Weather

After analyzing over 50,000 weather-related satellite images, Pennsylvania state university researchers found cloud formations that often lead to extreme weather conditions like hail storms and blizzards. Using these cloud formations, AI tools were effective in predicting 64% of severe weather events.

According to meteorologist Steve Wistar, AI enables “forecasters to find storm formations in a sea of cloud data”. AI technology can help in making effective solutions to tackle extreme weather events. Along with data analytics, AI tools can predict these events — saving human lives and minimizing losses.

New York-based Cloud to Street uses AI along with satellite data to track flooding occurring anywhere on earth.

  1. Identifying the Causes of Climate Change

For most climate experts, it’s easy to observe climate change – without understanding why it’s hanging. Karen McKinnon of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability observes that it is “hard to establish causality using only an observational record.”

Using AI and machine learning, climate experts can now go beyond correlation — for example, how more carbon dioxide contributes to a warmer climate — to causation. This is crucial for humans to understand “what’s happening on our planet” along with “what behaviors can prevent the most devastating results.”

The complexities of the Earth’s ecosystem present a new level of challenge for us to understand and comprehend climate change. Among undeniable realities,  our activities do contribute to climate change. With AI technology, we are in a better position to ensure our survival and also that of this planet.

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