Nav: Home

Using data mining to make sense of climate change

January 18, 2018

Big data and data mining have provided several breakthroughs in fields such as health informatics, smart cities and marketing. The same techniques, however, have not delivered consistent key findings for climate change.

There are a few reasons why. The main one is that previous data mining work in climate science, and in particular in the analysis of climate teleconnections, has relied on methods that offer rather simplistic "yes or no" answers.  

"It's not that simple in climate," said Annalisa Bracco, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. "Even weak connections between very different regions on the globe may result from an underlying physical phenomenon. Imposing thresholds and throwing out weak connections would halt everything. Instead, a climate scientist's expertise is the key step to finding commonalities across very different data sets or fields to explore how robust they are."

And with millions of data points spread out around the globe, Bracco said current models rely too much on human expertise to make sense of the output. She and her colleagues wanted to develop a methodology that depends more on actual data rather than a researcher's interpretation.

That's why the Georgia Tech team has developed a new way of mining data from climate data sets that is more self-contained than traditional tools. The methodology brings out commonalities of data sets without as much expertise from the user, allowing scientists to trust the data and get more robust -- and transparent -- results.

The methodology is open source and currently available to scientists around the world. The Georgia Tech researchers are already using it to explore sea surface temperature and cloud field data, two aspects that profoundly affect the planet's climate.

"There are so many factors -- cloud data, aerosols and wind fields, for example -- that interact to generate climate and drive climate change," said Athanasios Nenes, another College of Sciences climate professor on the project. "Depending on the model aspect you focus on, they can reproduce climate features effectively -- or not at all. Sometimes it is very hard to tell if one model is really better than another or if it predicts climate for the right reasons."

Nenes says the Georgia Tech methodology looks at everything in a more robust way, breaking the bottleneck that is typical of other model evaluation and analysis algorithms. The methodology, he says, can be used for observations, and scientists don't need to know anything about computer code and models.

"The methodology reduces the complexity of millions of data points to the bare essentials --sometimes as few as 10 regions that interact with each other," said Nenes. "We need to have tools that reduce the complexity of model output to understand them better and evaluate if they are providing the correct results for the right reasons."

To develop the methodology, the climate scientists partnered with Constantine Dovrolis and other data scientists in Georgia Tech's College of Computing. Dovrolis said it's exciting to apply algorithmic and computational thinking in problems that affect everyone in major ways, such as global warming."

"Climate science is a 'data-heavy' discipline with many intellectually interesting questions that can benefit from computational modeling and prediction," said Dovrolis, a professor in the School of Computer Science, "Cross-disciplinary collaborations are challenging at first -- every discipline has its own language, preferred approach and research culture -- but they can be quite rewarding at the end."
-end-
The paper, "Advancing climate science with knowledge-discovery through data mining," is published in Climate and Atmospheric Science, a Nature journal.

The development of the methodology was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (grant DE-SC0007143) and the National Science Foundation (grant DMS-1049095). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.