June 2017

Big Data and Earth Sciences Workshop

At the end of May / early June, after a few travel problems including an unexpected overnight stop in Philadelphia, I attended the Big Data and Earth Sciences: Grand Challenges Workshop at the University of California, San Diego.

The three-day workshop had a varied range of speakers from both academia and industry with representatives from organisations such as Deltares, NASA and NCAR.

I gave a presentation at the workshop, which first outlined the broad interests of our research group. The remainder of the presentation then explained the open challenges that are currently facing the flood risk management community and our ideas on how to tackle these problems.

The key part of a number of talks including my own was on the importance of data driven decision-making and in particular how to understand and reason across a range of heterogeneous data sources.

A large number of talks also applied deep learning techniques to a range of scientific problems such as the detection of hurricanes, atmospheric rivers and underwater source locations. These talks showed how powerful these new analytical techniques are and highlighted that further research is still needed to understand the uncertainty and limitation of these methods.

Padhraic Smyth from the University of California, Irvine gave the final talk of the workshop and nicely emphasised that machine learning, statistics are not in fact two separate disciplines. In particular that the communities (computer scientists, data scientists and statisticians) should work together in interdisciplinary teams to help develop a range of methods to help solve the grand challenges facing environmental science. The workshop provided a range of excellent talks and discussions that have helped to steer the prototype development during our first sprint.

To finish the workshop a dinner was held at the Martin Johnson house at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which provided spectacular views of the Californian coast but sadly due to the “June Gloom” the weather was not that different from Lancaster.

Author: Ross Towe