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IBM and NASA are collaborating to study the impact of climate change using AI

  • The joint work will apply AI foundation model technology by IBM to NASA’s Earth-observing satellite data for the first time.
  • The collaboration has the potential to quickly advance the scientific understanding of the earth’s response to climate-related issues. 
  • IBM and NASA plan to develop new technologies to extract insights from Earth observations.

No company knows AI better than IBM. Having researched and invested in AI over the past few decades, it’s no surprise that IBM would look to how they can apply the technology in the final frontier – space.

Earth observations that allow scientists to study and monitor our planet are being gathered at unprecedented rates. Since new and innovative approaches are required to extract knowledge from these vast data resources, IBM announced that it would work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to use AI for climate change research to improve the research analysis of these large datasets significantly.

The collaboration will enable new insights into NASA’s expansive Earth and geospatial science data. “The joint work will apply AI foundation model technology to NASA’s Earth-observing satellite data for the first time,” IBM said in a statement yesterday.

For context, foundation models are types of AI models trained on a broad set of unlabeled data, which can be used for different tasks and can apply information about one situation to another. “These models have rapidly advanced the field of natural language processing (NLP) technology over the last five years, and IBM is pioneering applications of foundation models beyond language,” the computing giant stated.

IBM’s principal researcher Raghu Ganti also shared how foundation models have proven successful in natural language processing and said “it’s time to expand that to new domains and modalities important for business and society.” He believes that applying foundation models to geospatial, event-sequence, time-series, and other non-language factors within Earth science data could make enormously valuable insights and information suddenly available to a much wider group of researchers, businesses, and citizens. 

IBM and NASA are collaborating to study the impact of climate change using AI

IBM and NASA are collaborating to study the impact of climate change using AI. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP)

“Ultimately, it could facilitate a larger number of people working on some of our most pressing climate issues,” he added. Essentially, IBM’s foundation model technology has the potential to speed up the discovery and analysis of these data to quickly advance the scientific understanding of Earth and response to climate-related issues. On top of that, IBM and NASA have plans to develop several new technologies to extract insights from earth observations. 

One of the projects will train an IBM geospatial intelligence foundation model on NASA’s Harmonized Landsat Sentinel-2 (HLS) dataset, a record of land cover and land use changes captured by Earth-orbiting satellites.  “By analyzing petabytes of satellite data to identify changes in the geographic footprint of phenomena such as natural disasters, cyclical crop yields, and wildlife habitats, this foundation model technology will help researchers provide critical analysis of our planet’s environmental systems,” IBM noted. 

Another output from this collaboration is expected to be an easily searchable corpus of Earth science literature, the company added. Previously, IBM  has developed an NLP model trained on nearly 300,000 Earth science journal articles to organize the literature and make it easier to discover new knowledge. 

“Containing one of the largest AI workloads trained on Red Hat’s OpenShift software to date, the fully trained model uses PrimeQA, IBM’s open-source, multilingual question-answering system. Beyond providing a resource to researchers, the new language model for Earth science could be infused into NASA’s scientific data management and stewardship processes,” IBM said.

For NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center’s senior research scientist Rahul Ramachandran, the beauty of foundation models is they can potentially be used for many downstream applications. “Building these foundation models cannot be tackled by small teams. You need teams across different organizations to bring their different perspectives, resources, and skill sets,” he added.

Other potential IBM-NASA joint projects in this agreement include constructing a foundation model for weather and climate prediction using MERRA-2, a dataset of atmospheric observations. IBM said the collaboration is part of NASA’s Open-Source Science Initiative, a commitment to building an inclusive, transparent, and collaborative open science community over the next decade.