Organizations are using artificial intelligence (AI)-driven data visualization to model and predict sea level rise caused by climate change. The goal is to make more accurate predictions about future climate conditions that can affect sea levels, project how sea level change will impact the environment and society, and present the findings in ways that can be easily interpreted and shared among various stakeholders — ranging from scientists, researchers, and industry and government officials to advocacy groups and concerned citizens seeking new, sustainable environmental measures.
Modeling and predicting sea level rise is difficult because it involves many variables, including uncertainty about the rate of ice melt and the complex interactions between the oceans, atmosphere, and ice sheets. Additionally, the effects of sea level rise are not uniform across the planet, further complicating efforts to predict the impact of sea level rise on specific regions.
To overcome these challenges, organizations are applying AI and supporting technologies, including machine learning (ML), data visualization, Internet of Things (IoT), and digital twins, to analyze weather and environmental data acquired by satellites, aircraft (including drones), ground/water-based sensors, and other instruments.
One popular application is NASA’s Sea Level Projection Tool, which allows users to visualize and download sea level–projection data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report. This Web portal provides easy access and visualization capabilities to the projections in the report, including measurement-based models of ice, ocean, and land changes over time using ML algorithms that can project these changes into the future.
There are more comprehensive AI platforms, too. For example, Nvidia’s Omniverse is an immersive 3D simulation and visualization tool that supports real-time collaboration and photorealistic rendering of complex scenes and scenarios. It offers various AI techniques and features virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities, which can be used to create highly realistic animations. These features provide the ability to build digital representations of physical systems like buildings, cities, and ecosystems and simulate how they could respond to different scenarios of sea level rise, such as changes in temperature, precipitation, or human activities.
We are also seeing the development of generative AI algorithms designed specifically for climate change analysis. For example, ClimateGAN, developed by a team of Canadian and American researchers, can generate visualizations related to climate change events, such as floods (including those caused by sea level rise), wildfires, and smog. ClimateGAN functions by applying several different AI algorithms to: (1) predict which parts of an image would be underwater in a flood and (2) generate realistic water textures based on an input image.
The ability to use ML to auto-generate highly realistic images and animations of flooding and other impacts caused by sea level rise is important because such visualizations can help raise public awareness of climate change issues and inform politicians and government officials with the details needed to create scientifically fact-based legislation designed to mitigate such threats.
Predicting Sea Level Rise in Tonga
The recent United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change (COP28) featured a panel that highlighted the benefits of using AI to model and predict sea level rise in Tonga over time and for simulating the effects of different scenarios of climate change and adaptation measures. This demonstration was based on a project involving AI vendor Nvidia and geospatial company RSS-Hydro. The goal is to help Tonga assess the risks and opportunities presented by sea level rise and to plan and implement sustainable solutions. The project also involves the participation of various local stakeholders, including government officials, community leaders, and youth groups, who can interact with the application in order to brainstorm and explore various solutions and outcomes.
Tonga, like other low-lying island nations, is severely threatened by sea level rise. RSS-Hydro, in collaboration with the Commonwealth and Nvidia, developed a 3D visualization using Nvidia’s Omniverse platform to analyze the impact of climate change on Tonga. The application’s geospatial methods and models can inform on current sea level rise, future sea level rise, climate change, natural disasters, and extreme weather events and their projected impact on local communities, infrastructure, and biodiversity linked to extensive habitat loss.
To develop the application, RSS-Hydro took current climate model projections and transposed them onto land elevations to analyze and visually display the impact of permanently submerged Tongan lands under the intermediate and high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. The projections start by displaying visualizations based on the current sea level. Next, they show rise by 2030, which represents the deadline for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and rise by 2050, which is the deadline for most net zero targets. Finally, the visualizations show rise of sea water by 2100 and 2150 — representing future generations. Additionally, by utilizing satellite imagery of current land cover, the application can analyze the impact of potential loss to urban infrastructure, agriculture, and important habitats such as forests, wetlands, and mangroves.
The findings show that as the sea level rises and reshapes the shores of Tonga, thousands of buildings will be impacted, and the coverage of mangroves could be reduced by as much as 80% for the next generations living on the island. (Watch a presentation on the project here.)
Organizations are developing new tools that combine AI/ML with data visualization, IoT, digital twins, 3D simulation, and collaboration to potentially transform the way we address the challenges of sea level rise. These tools provide deeper insights into underlying causes and issues and allow various stakeholders to have a say when it comes to devising new solutions.
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