IBM has announced new efforts that apply its geospatial AI technologies, including IBM’s geospatial foundation model developed in collaboration with NASA, to climate efforts including analysis of urban heat islands in the United Arab Emirates (UAE); reforestation across Kenya; and climate resiliency in the United Kingdom (UK).
IBM continues to advance its AI model strategy in part through the creation, training, fine-tuning and open-sourcing of foundation models – models that can be used for different tasks and apply information from one situation to another – designed for domains beyond natural language, including geospatial applications.
These models, which are trained on geospatial information such as satellite images, present a unique opportunity to address climate change because unlike traditional AI models tailored for specialized tasks, geospatial foundation models – encompassing satellite and weather data – create knowledge representations from petabytes and exabytes of climate-relevant data that can facilitate accelerated and streamlined discovery of environmental insights and solutions. These models can also be fine-tuned and applied across a multitude of areas driving or revealing climate change, from flood detection to fire scars.
“Climate change is a real and pressing issue that we must find new ways to address as quickly and efficiently as possible, including through today’s most advanced AI technologies,” said Alessandro Curioni, IBM Fellow and Vice President, Accelerated Discovery at IBM. “AI foundation models utilizing geospatial data can be a game-changer because they allow us to better understand, prepare and address the many climate-related events effecting the health of our planet in a manner and speed never before seen. We are hopeful these technologies can help accelerate the rate at which we derive and apply solutions for a safer and healthier planet for future generations.”
Analyzing urban heat islands in the UAE
By the end of this century, many cities will likely experience disruptive and excessive heat waves if GHG emissions continue at high levels. To develop sustainable and equitable plans to keep cities habitable, the rising heat levels must be accurately mapped and addressed.
IBM and the Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) are pioneering an attempt to apply foundation models to the mapping of urban heat islands – areas with significantly higher temperatures compared to surrounding locations. This innovative research specifically applies a fine-tuned version of IBM’s geospatial foundation model to understand the urban environment in Abu Dhabi and how the underlying landscape in the UAE impacts the formation of urban heat islands.
To date, the model has informed efforts that have succeeded in a reduction of heat island effects in the region by more than 3oC (5.4 F)1. Going forward, the model is expected to continue to provide unique insights that inform the development of urban design strategies designed to help reduce urban heat stress in changing climates.
Professor Tim Baldwin, MBZUAI Acting Provost, said: “Our collaboration with IBM marks a groundbreaking effort to utilize foundational AI models in analyzing and identifying solutions to urban heat islands for Abu Dhabi and parts of the UAE, a region which is particularly affected by climate change. This research underscores the vital role of AI in tackling global issues, emphasizing the urgency of continued exploration and innovation. By harnessing the power of AI, we are not merely addressing challenges; we are proactively shaping solutions for a sustainable future. In a world confronted by unprecedented challenges, MBZUAI stands at the forefront of pioneering research in AI, recognizing the transformative power it holds.”
Extending NASA collaboration to apply generative AI to weather
Beyond their initial commitment to build and deploy a geospatial foundation model, IBM and NASA have also announced work on a new, separate AI foundation model for weather and climate. By applying AI technology from IBM, the model aims to improve the accuracy, speed and affordability of weather forecasting and other climate applications. Sample applications of the model not only include forecasting, but also super-resolution downscaling, identifying conditions conducive to wildfires, and predicting meteorological phenomena. IBM researchers will work alongside NASA domain experts to train and validate the model.
IBM at COP28
These latest efforts and IBM’s role at COP28 builds on the company’s long history of action, research, and advocacy around the environment. IBM issued its first environmental policy more than 50 years ago, in 1971, and published a formal position on climate change in 2007. IBM is also a founding member of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment and the Climate Leadership Council, and supports communities vulnerable to climate change and other environmental issues through initiatives like the IBM Sustainability Accelerator.