“Digital Twin of the Earth” — A Peek into NASA’s AI and Open Science Efforts to Fight Climate Change

“Digital Twin of the Earth” — A Peek into NASA’s AI and Open Science Efforts to Fight Climate Change

NASA's partnership with IBM will provide open-access tools to tackle environmental challenges globally.

As the climate crisis increases with every passing day, NASA is harnessing the power of AI to enhance its climate research and empower scientists worldwide. This effort involves innovative partnerships and a commitment to open science principles, enabling a broad spectrum of research initiatives aimed at understanding and mitigating climate impacts.

Harnessing AI for enhanced climate research

In 2023, NASA collaborated with IBM Research to develop an AI geospatial foundation model, a cutting-edge tool trained on NASA's Harmonized Landsat and Sentinel-2 data. This model serves as a versatile base for a variety of AI-driven environmental studies, freely accessible to the global research community.

Manil Maskey, Data Science Lead at NASA’s Office of the Chief Science Data Officer, likens the model to a "Swiss Army Knife," adaptable for multiple applications.

The foundation model's adaptability is showcased through projects like detecting burn scars, delineating flood waters, and classifying land use. Each application demonstrates how AI can streamline complex analyses and produce valuable insights from minimal data inputs.

This approach not only accelerates research but also enhances the accuracy and efficacy of environmental monitoring and response strategies.

Partnership and Open Science – A Model for Success

Creating such an advanced AI model required substantial computational resources, necessitating a partnership between NASA's extensive data and scientific expertise and IBM's computational power and AI skills. This collaboration highlights the importance of open science, as all aspects of the foundation model — from training data to model weights—are publicly accessible.

This transparency allows the scientific community to understand, utilize, and build upon the work, fostering an environment of collaboration and innovation.

Following the success of the geospatial model, NASA and IBM are expanding their partnership to develop a new AI model focused on weather and climate analysis.

This project, involving Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NVIDIA, and several universities, centers on the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications data. The upcoming model will also adhere to open science principles, ensuring it remains available for public use and benefit.

“Everything we have done on our foundation models has been open to the public, all the way from pre-training data, code, best practices, model weights, fine-tuning training data, and publications. There’s transparency, so researchers can trace why certain things were used in terms of data or model architecture,” says Maskey.

Maskey envisions a future where multiple foundation models, each trained on different data sets, could merge into a singular, comprehensive model — a "digital twin" of Earth that could revolutionize the prediction of and response to climate and environmental challenges, offering a detailed simulation of Earth's systems.

Through these efforts, NASA's AI and open science initiatives are not just advancing Earth science; they are setting a new standard for collaborative research, enabling scientists around the globe to contribute to the vital task of safeguarding the planet.

This democratization of data and tools ensures that the best minds worldwide can work together to tackle one of the most pressing issues — climate change.

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