Category: Earth Observation & Climate Data

Making climate models open source makes them even more useful

Making climate models open source makes them even more useful

By Martin Jucker, University of Melbourne

Designing climate experiments is all but impossible in the real world. We can’t, for instance, study the effects of clouds by taking away all the clouds for a set period of time and seeing what happens. 

Instead, we have to design our experiments virtually, by developing computer models. Now, a new open-source set of climate models has allowed this research to become more collaborative, efficient and reliable.

Full climate models are designed to be as close to nature as possible. They are representations of the combined knowledge of climate science and are without a doubt the best tools to understand what the future might look like. 

However, many research projects focus on small parts of the climate, such as sudden wind changes, the temperature in a given region, or ocean currents. For these studies, concentrating on a small detail in a full climate model is like trying to find a needle in the haystack.

It is therefore common practice in such cases to take away the haystack by using simpler climate models. Scientists usually write these models for specific projects. A quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein maybe best summarises the process: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Here’s an example. In a paper from last year I looked at the temperature and wind changes in the upper atmosphere close to the Equator. I didn’t need to know what happened in the ocean, and I didn’t need any chemistry, polar ice, or even clouds in my model. So I wrote a much simpler model without these ingredients. It’s called “MiMA” (Model of an idealised Moist Atmosphere), and is freely available on the web.

MiMA.

The drawbacks of simpler models

Of course, using simpler models comes with its own problems. 

The main issue is that researchers have to be very clear what the limits are for each model. For instance, it would be hard to study thunderstorms with a model that doesn’t reproduce clouds. 

The second issue is that whereas the scientific results may be published, the code itself is typically not. Everyone has to believe that the model does indeed do what the author claims, and to trust that there are no errors in the code.

The third issue with simpler models is that anyone else trying to duplicate or build on published work would have to rebuild a similar model themselves. But given that the two models will be written by two (or more) different people, it is highly unlikely that they will be exactly the same. Also, the time the first author spends on building their model is then spent a second time by a second author, to achieve at best the same result. This is very inefficient.

Open-source climate models

To remedy some (if not all) of these issues, some colleagues and I have built a framework of climate models called Isca. Isca contains models that are easy to obtain, completely free, documented, and come with software to make installation and running easier. All changes are documented and can be reverted. Therefore, it is easy for everyone to use exactly the same models. 

The time it would take for everyone to build their own version of the same model can now be used to extend the existing models. More sets of eyes on one model means that errors can be quickly identified and corrected. The time saved could also be used to build new analysis software, which can extract new information from existing simulations.

As a result, the climate models and their resulting scientific experiments become both more flexible and reliable. All of this only works because the code is publicly available and because any changes are continuously tracked and documented.

An example is my own code, MiMA, which is part of Isca. I have been amazed at the breadth of research it is used for. I wrote it to look at the tropical upper atmosphere, but others have since used it to study the life cycle of weather systems, the Indian monsoon, the effect of volcanic eruptions on climate, and so on. And that’s only one year after its first publication.

Making models openly available in this way has another advantage. Using an accessible proof can counter the mistrust of climate science that is still prevalent in some quarters. 

The burden of proof automatically falls on the sceptics. As all the code is there and all changes are trackable, it is up to them to point out errors. And if someone does find an error, even better! Correcting it is just another step to make the models even more reliable.

Going open source with scientific code has many more benefits than drawbacks. It allows collaboration between people who don’t even know one another. And, most importantly, it will make our climate models more flexible, more reliable and generally more useful.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by NASA on Unsplash.
Earth Observation for Impact: GEO Symposium 2019

Earth Observation for Impact: GEO Symposium 2019

Join the global Earth observation community in Geneva from 27-29 May for the 2019 GEO Symposium, as representatives from GEO’s 70+ Work Programme activities and initiatives share their progress, knowledge and make plans to maximise the impact of Earth observations for sustainable development.

Why attend?

The 2019 Symposium takes place at a critical moment in the development of the 2020-2022 GEO Work Programme. Participants will have the opportunity to take part in discussions that will shape GEO’s direction over the next three years.

Who should attend?

All those currently involved in GEO Flagships, Initiatives, Community Activities or Foundational Tasks are invited to come and share their experiences and knowledge with the GEO community. Those who are proposing new activities for inclusion in the GEO Work Programme are strongly urged to attend. We also encourage participation from users and providers of Earth observation data and information who are new to GEO and are interested in getting involved.

Agenda

The GEO Symposium agenda will be available on GEO’s website shortly.

For more information, please contact Craig Larlee: clarlee@geosec.org

EO data helping Alpine tourism adapt to climate change

EO data helping Alpine tourism adapt to climate change

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Temperatures in the Alps have risen almost twice the global average. This trend has profound implications for the whole Alpine environment and the industries that depend on it. One of the most prominent ones is tourism, especially winter tourism. However, with climate change, the Alps are gaining popularity as a warm but not too hot summer destination. The European Earth observation (EO) programme Copernicus aims to support the sector with new tools that can improve the understanding of climate change impacts on tourism.

As climate change alters the patterns of suitable and non-suitable weather conditions, the competitiveness and seasonality of holiday destinations can be heavily affected. Seasonal forecasting and climate projections can therefore play an important role in strategic business planning. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) is developing a user-driven climate information system for intermediaries, tourism companies, policy makers and other users, based on information from the C3S Climate Data Store. Part of the system is a series of indicators and indices that will help tourism providers shape their marketing strategies, future investments and plan events while considering a changing climate.

One of these indices is the Holiday Climate Index (HCI); it combines temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, cloud cover and wind helping illustrate the climatic suitability for tourism activities. The HCI can help businesses make informed decisions about the start and finish of the season, promotional campaigns, event scheduling, and staffing levels. Additionally, the Mountain Tourism Meteorological and Snow Indicators (MTMSI) will provide information about past and future temperature, and natural and managed (including effects of grooming and snowmaking) snow season duration. These data are of particular interest to ski resorts. The service, which is meant to become available later in 2019, will also offer an interactive web-interface with data not just for the Alps but all of Europe.

These new tools will be particularly interesting for the Alpine tourism sector as its seasonality and offering is already starting to look different due to climate change. Tourism providers are entering unfamiliar territory, with EO-based information tailored to their needs they will be able to make better informed business decisions and adapt to new circumstances.


Cover photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash.
Applying Earth observation data to support robust investment decisions in the face of a changing climate

Applying Earth observation data to support robust investment decisions in the face of a changing climate

By John Firth (Acclimatise), Tanzeed Alam (Earth Matters Consulting), Steven Ramage (GEO), Jed Sundwall (AWS), and Michael J. Brewer (NCEI), Sara Venturini (Acclimatise) and Elisa Jiménez Alonso (Acclimatise)

Editorial note: This is an Acclimatise & Earth Matters Consulting briefing note written in collaboration with Group on Earth Observations (GEO), Amazon Web Services (AWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

The Eye on Earth (EoE) Symposium 2018 was held from 22-24 October 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The event gathered experts from different disciplines to discuss the use of data in support of sustainable development. The symposium was organized by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), a co-founder of the Eye on Earth movement, in partnership with the UAE Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority and the Eye on Earth Alliance.

In a session chaired by Tanzeed Alam of Earth Matters Consulting, panellists Steven Ramage of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Secretariat, Jed Sundwall of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Michael Brewer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), and John Firth of Acclimatise Group Ltd. discussed the application of Earth Observation (EO) data to support robust investment decisions in the face of a changing climate.

Of cooperation and access

Steven Ramage presented how GEO promotes science and technology to facilitate the use of EO for policy and decision makers around the world. A large part of this work is coordinating with all the GEO member countries in order to increase cooperation, as well as open data access and sharing. Many countries do not have suitable data at their disposal in order to make better decisions about how to address environmental challenges, including climate risks. Thus, the exchange with countries that do have good quality data can facilitate data access and make a significant difference. GEO also works to promote capacity building for the efficient use of EO data in decision making.

While GEO promotes the science and human networks that facilitate data access through cooperation, Amazon Web Services focuses on the technological side of things. Jed Sundwall shared that Amazon is looking to lower the cost of knowledge, explaining that if data is in the cloud, working with it is faster and cheaper. Nowadays, many customers rely heavily on quick data access to develop and offer services. This can drive change all over because quick data access can reach a diverse user base that goes beyond academics.

The importance of the private sector

Michael Brewer spoke about the value of data NOAA’s NCEI provides across all kinds of sectors, from agriculture and logistics to retail and finance. Many businesses, especially in the USA, use NCEI data to improve their bottom line. It helps them plan ahead and react quickly, be it delivery companies choosing their distribution hubs or farmers determining how much fertiliser to use, and even food retailers deciding what foods to stock in their shops – climate data from EO is an invaluable asset.

John Firth underlined this by presenting some of the work Acclimatise has been doing in the financial sector. Using EO data, banks can better understand and disclose on their physical climate risks. In light of our changing climate, this is of extreme importance because the safe margin within which investment decisions have been made in the past is shrinking fast and drastically. Having access to EO data and knowing how to interpret and extract information from it is crucial to understand how climate change is affecting our society.

Key takeaways

  • We can make greater use of the extensive and readily accessible data provided by the EO community together with other socio-economic and environmental data. Many potential users have little awareness about open data resources that exist and those resources are therefore under-utilised.
  • Use of EO data as such, is not the end goal, but more about how socio-economic and other data can be combined and analysed to better inform decisions. The examples shared at the event have shown how building such ‘bridges’ can better inform investment decisions in different sectors, be it utilities, the agricultural sector or financial institutions.
  • It is key to consider the needs of least developed and middle-income countries in relation to EO data for climate risk assessment and management and adaptation. Many developing countries lack skills and resources to access and make full use of EO data and services offered by major providers.
  • We need the power of EO data to enable actions to be taken by business and governments. Successfully transferring open access data and information from the scientific community to decision-makers to inform policy and business decisions is crucial to support climate adaptation that requires bespoke, local-level solutions over multiple timeframes.
  • There is no straightforward solution to the challenges of availability and accessibility of EO data and how this can be overcome to address the climate challenge at the necessary speed. It is important to accelerate the use of EO data (both space-based and in situ data) for timely adaptation action. There is no easy answer, but solutions involve the need to provide more open data, work collaboratively, and support investments in education and long-term co-design and co-production of knowledge, often badged as capacity-building.
  • Participants agreed that a major change is needed, where positive climate action is embedded in everyday habits and behaviours. Communicating our knowledge of climate change in the language of the audience and tailored to their needs is essential. EO can play a major role in improving narratives and changing habits and behaviours by showing the changes taking place in our own communities. The recent IPCC 1.5°C report highlights there is a small window of opportunity to deliver the objectives of the Paris Agreement, by scaling up mitigation actions to transition to low-carbon economies and building resilience to the physical impacts of a changing climate. EO open access data can be used via visualisation and modelling tools to help governments, business (SMEs and corporates), financial services, NGOs and communities to understand and manage their risks, and influence behaviour change.

Download this briefing note as a PDF by clicking here.


Further information

Access the recording of the Eye on Earth Symposium panel discussion by going to https://eye-on-earth.net/session-recordings/

Acclimatise is a specialist advisory and analytics company providing world-class expertise in climate change adaptation and risk management. Acclimatise focusses solely on adaptation, bridging the gap between the latest scientific developments and real-world decision making to support the public and private sector. Contact: John Firth, CEO and co-founder.

Earth Matters Consulting was established in December 2017 and provides advisory services in strategy, policy and communications for climate change, conservation and sustainability to government bodies, businesses and non-profit organisations. Contact: Tanzeed Alam, Managing Director, tanzeed(a)earth-matters.net.

Group on Earth Observations (GEO) coordinates international efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). It links existing and planned Earth observation systems and supports the development of new ones in cases of perceived gaps in the supply of environment-related information. Contact: Steven Ramage, Head of External Relations, sramage(a)geosec.org.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a subsidiary of Amazon that provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies and governments, on a paid subscription basis. The technology allows subscribers access to a variety of compute power, database storage, applications, and other IT resources via the Internet. Contact: Jed Sundwall, Global Open Data Lead, jed(a)amazon.de.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) is the world’s largest active archive of environmental data. NCEI hosts and provides access to over 35 petabytes of comprehensive atmospheric, coastal, oceanic, and geophysical digital data, freely available through the Internet. Contact: Michael Brewer, Chief, Customer Engagement, michael.j.brewer(a)noaa.gov.

Cover photo by NASA: Landsat 8 image of the Laptev Sea.
GEO and Amazon Web Services – Cloud Credits for projects that improve understanding of planet

GEO and Amazon Web Services – Cloud Credits for projects that improve understanding of planet

The new collaboration between GEO and Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers GEO Member agencies and research organisations from developing countries access to cloud services to help with the hosting, processing and analysis of big data about the Earth to inform decisions for sustainable development.

Eligible government agencies and research institutions can apply for AWS credits that will enable them to build Earth observations applications that support environmental and development goals, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Recipients of cloud credits through this initiative will also receive support from the GEO community and AWS experts to refine and implement their projects for the best possible results.

AWS and GEO first announced their collaboration in 2017 to support the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) open data platform.

Visit GEO’s website to apply and for more information.

The application deadline is 31 March 2019.


Cover photo by NASA on Unsplash.
EO4SD Climate Resilience stakeholder & capacity building workshop

EO4SD Climate Resilience stakeholder & capacity building workshop

Colleagues from international finance institutions (IFIs) and their client states are invited to join the EO4SD Climate Resilience cluster on 13 March 2019, one day before the One Planet Summit in Nairobi: Africa’s Pledge, for a stakeholder and capacity building workshop at the ICPAC offices in Nairobi, Kenya.

The workshop aims to demonstrate the value of Earth observation data to climate-resilient development through a series of presentations, discussions, and hands-on training.

During the workshop the EO4SD Climate Resilience cluster will:

  • Provide valuable insights into how IFIs and their client states can use Earth observation data to support climate-resilient development;
  • Discuss stakeholder needs and requirements, especially with regards to projects on the African continent;
  • Provide applicable and useful information about Copernicus Sentinel data and services, which offers full, free and open access;
  • Showcase the proposed services of the EO4SD Climate Resilience cluster and how they can be used (e.g. drought monitoring, wetland monitoring, ecosystem evaluation, flooding, soil erosion, etc.);
  • Offer a training session about the EO4SD Climate Resilience platform, including downloading data, visualizing it, and creating of customized products (e.g. water quality indexes, vegetation indexes, etc.).

More information coming soon!

For additional information, please contact EO4SD Climate Resilience coordinator Dr. Carlos Doménech.

Please register by using the following link.

This New Climate – Episode 3: OASIS & the democratisation of climate data

This New Climate – Episode 3: OASIS & the democratisation of climate data

In the third episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler explores how the OASIS group of companies are seeking to transform our ability to understand climate risk through a commitment to open source data. Climate data and information is at the very heart of efforts for insurance companies to price risk and respond to extreme events like hurricanes and droughts. Steve Bowen, Director of the Catastrophe Insight team at insurance giant Aon, explains why data was central to Aon’s response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria helping us understand why OASIS’s mission is an important puzzle piece to managing the global climate crisis.

Episode guests: Steve Bowen from Aon, Dickie Whitaker and Tracy Irvine from OASIS.

This New Climate is an Acclimatise production.

OASIS is an EIT Climate-KIC supported innovation initiative.

Further information:

OASIS Hub

OASIS Loss Modelling Framework

OASIS Palm Tree

AON

Climate-KIC

Ocean warming may be faster than thought

Ocean warming may be faster than thought

By Tim Radford

Science knows that ocean warming is occurring. A big challenge now is to work out how quickly the temperature is rising.

The seas are getting hotter – and researchers have thought again about just how much faster ocean warming is happening. They believe that in the last 25 years the oceans have absorbed at least 60% more heat than previous global estimates by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had considered.

And they calculate this heat as the equivalent to 150 times the annual human electricity generation in any one year.

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet (10m) deep,” said Laure Resplandy, a researcher at the Princeton Environment Institute in the US. “Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5°C every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4°C every decade.”

The oceans cover 70% of the Blue Planet, but take up about 90% of all the excess energy produced as the Earth warms. If scientists can put a precise figure to this energy, then they can make more precise guesses about the surface warming to come, as humans continue to burn fossil fuels, release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and drive up the planetary thermometer.

“There will have to be an even more drastic shutdown of fossil fuel investment and an even faster switch to renewable sources of energy”

At the academic level, this is the search for a factor known to climate researchers as climate sensitivity: the way the world responds to ever-increasing ratios of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

At the human level, this plays out as ever-greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall, with ever-higher risks of catastrophic storm or flood, or harvest failure, and ever-higher tallies of human suffering.

Comprehensive global measurements of ocean temperature date only from 2007 and the network of robot sensors that deliver continuous data about the top half of the ocean basins.

Dr Resplandy and her colleagues report in the journal Nature that they used a sophisticated approach based on very high-precision measurements of levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air.

Gases released

Both gases are soluble, and the oceans are becoming more acidic as the seas absorb ever-greater levels of carbon dioxide. But as seas warm, they also become less able to hold their dissolved gases, and release them into the atmosphere.

This simple consequence of atmospheric physics meant that the researchers could use what they call “atmospheric potential oxygen” to arrive at a new way of measuring the heat the oceans must have absorbed over time.

They used the standard unit of energy: the joule. Their new budget for heat absorbed each year between 1991 and 2016 is 13 zettajoules. That is a digit followed by 21 zeroes, the kind of magnitude astronomers tend to use.

That the oceans are warming is no surprise: this has been obvious from the crudest comparison of old naval data with modern surface checks, and for years some researchers argued that ever-higher ocean temperatures could account for the so-called slowdown in global warming in the first dozen years of this century.

Challenging achievement

The new finding counts first as an academic achievement: there is now a more precise thermometer reading, and new calculations can begin.

One of the researchers, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said: “The result significantly increases the confidence we can place in estimates of ocean warming and therefore help reduce uncertainty in the climate sensitivity, particularly closing off the possibility of very low climate sensitivity.”

But the result also suggests that internationally agreed attempts to hold planetary warming to a maximum of just 2°C – and the world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century – become more challenging.

It means that there will have to be an even more drastic shutdown of fossil fuel investment and an even faster switch to renewable sources of energy such as sun and wind power.


Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Giga Khurtsilava on Unsplash
Open data and information sources to support climate risk assessments and decision making

Open data and information sources to support climate risk assessments and decision making

By Dr Anna Haworth

“Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t form any theories or draw any conclusions until he had sufficient data. The same is true for climate risk and adaptation practitioners – data and information are the basic building blocks of everything we do: the analyses we perform, the reports we build, the decisions we encourage, and the improved resilience we hopefully derive.

Against this backdrop of a need for robust, contextual and high-resolution climate data and information, a recently published technical note by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provides a concise, yet detailed summary of open source datasets that can be used to assist experts carrying out climate risk assessments.

Authored by Rob Wilby, a close friend of Acclimatise, and colleagues at the ADB, this technical note provides details of 70 sources of public information, including data on historical and future climate, climate-related disasters, indicators of national vulnerability, and preparedness to adapt.

Data sources are collated in four appendices, which broadly map to successive phases of the ADB Climate Risk Management Framework, covering:

  1. National emissions, climate vulnerability, risks, and impacts;
  2. Historic weather, climate, and environmental change;
  3. Multidecadal, regional climate change projections; and
  4. Climate change impacts and adaptation.

Although the report focuses on the Asia and Pacific region, it does have wider applicability as most of the datasets are global in coverage.

As the authors acknowledge, there is a limit to which globally accessible, open source data can meet the detailed information needs of local adaptation projects. This note is intended to supplement rather than replace efforts to gather relevant climate information from government agencies and counterparts.

The technical note concludes by encouraging ADB, other multilateral development banks, and partner agencies to continue to invest in programs that strengthen national monitoring systems for climate and environmental change. Unfortunately, large parts of the developing world still lack both the climate and socioeconomic information required for robust climate risk assessments – in particular, for high-elevation and physically remote locations.

Remotely-sensed and reanalysis products certainly improve coverage, but the accuracy of these assets ultimately depends on high-quality observing networks. As the note highlights, open access to long-term records is invaluable for detecting emergent risks and devising, then implementing, effective adaptation measures.

Download the report by clicking here.


Cover photo by Thomas Beckett on Unsplash
Help shape Copernicus Climate Change user learning services

Help shape Copernicus Climate Change user learning services

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) now also offers learning services on how to correctly use its Climate Data Store. The courses combine classroom and online training covering:

  • Climate Data Store
  • Data discovery
  • Data sources (Essential Climate Variables, Earth Observations, reanalysis, climate predictions, seasonal forecasts)
  • Sectoral Information System (including case studies e.g. from the water, energy, food and insurance sectors)
  • Uncertainty

In order to shape the learning service to its users’ needs, C3S are currently undertaking a short survey to find out what people really want out of the platform. Click here to access the survey and provide your feedback: Access C3S learning services survey.

Free training events are held all across Europe. Click here to find out when and where the next ones are taking place: Access the event calendar.

There is also a Learning Experience Platform people can use for free, click here to register.

Read the brochure by clicking on the image:


Cover photo by rawpixel on Unsplash, edited.