Why big data is scientists’ best weapon to fight climate change

Why big data is scientists’ best weapon to fight climate change

Aldo AgostinelliAccording to the UN, 2016 has been the hottest year since the pre-industrial era. The temperature has risen by 1.2 degrees and the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has reached unprecedented levels. This means that pollution has been having a critical impact on the climate, putting the survival of natural ecosystems, and therefore our own existence, at risk. Read in Italian.

Big data, the ultimate ally in the fight against climate change, has proven this beyond any reasonable doubt

Big data, the ultimate ally in the fight against climate change, has proven this beyond any reasonable doubt. Thanks to data collected by twenty satellites orbiting in our atmosphere, by tens of thousands of measuring stations scattered all over the earth, and the cloud which gives scope to share and analyze such data, 97% of the scientific community can now explain, warn and spread awareness amongst the general public about the seriousness of the current situation, despite the opposition of the remaining 3% of experts who, either through incompetence or convenience, keep denying reality.

We are talking about millions of pieces of data which can be used to provide a detailed picture of the situation and to work out a possible solution. Earth Engine, the algorithm developed by the University of Maryland, analyses 700 thousand satellite images (a total amount of 20 trillion pixels), and allows scientists to map and monitor the world’s forests. Such calculations would typically take 1 million hours, but, thanks to 10 thousand computers working simultaneously, Earth Engine can get to the result in just a few days.

“Thanks to big data we now know that if we gave up the use of fossil fuels, the planet would first get hotter and then would start cooling down, saving itself from destruction”, explained Piers J. Sellers, Vice Manager of the Science and Exploration Department at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in the documentary entitled “Before The Flood”, by Academy Award winner and Onu Ambassador for the Environment, Leonardo Di Caprio (I highly recommend you all should watch it!).

Thanks to big data we now know that if we gave up the use of fossil fuels, the planet would first get hotter and then would start cooling down, saving itself from destruction

By examining the vast amount of data from the American National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Peter Wadhams, Director of the Polar Ocean Physics Department of the University of Cambridge, has found out that on June 1st, the iced surface of the Arctic will have shrunk to 11.1 million squared kilometers. Which means that by next year it might just completely melt.

Global warming is bringing about devastating weather phenomena such as floods, desertification of huge territories, the melting of the North Pole and, consequently, the emission of methane gas contained inside the permafrost, the increase in the sea level by 4 to 6 meters, the extinction of wildlife and plants, the death of rifts and thus the destruction of the precious ecosystem which supports over 1 million people.

Therefore, the quantities of big data we have available are the right tools which should be used by scientists who are expected to “translate” them into something more comprehensible for the general public. As a group, we as people of the Earth are entitled to being informed and put pressure onto politicians to force them to do something concrete to defend the only planet we have.

Are you worried about climate change? Which solution would you recommend to save ourselves and our planet? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me: @agostinellialdo.

If you enjoyed this and would like to learn more about big data, you’ll like my other blogs on data.

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