Idea in Brief: 

  • According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reductions, the number of climate-related events has doubled in the last 20 years, from 3656 events in 1980-99 to 6681 events in 2000-19. 
  • Environmental Intelligence enables disaster management organizations to carry out all four stages of catastrophe management: mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.
  • Climate change is a global phenomenon but manifests differently in different regions. The impacts of climate change are generally experienced at local, national, and regional scales. These are also the scales at which decisions are typically made. 
“Men argue. Nature acts

A quote by Voltaire comes to my mind when we talk about the effects of climate change our planet is experiencing right now. Evidence has been accumulating since the last four decades, reminding us that the world is warming, and greenhouse gas emissions from human-made processes play a significant role. From California’s lake-draining drought to China’s bridge-breaking floods, extreme weather disasters were constant reminders of climate change. They triggered a sense of urgency to have prevention methods and disaster relief plans in place. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reductions, the number of climate-related events has doubled in the last 20 years, from 3656 events in 1980-99 to 6681 events in 2000-19. The intensity of the disasters has also increased two-fold and is likely to occur more frequently than in the past. So how can we predict, prevent, and manage extreme disasters? First, let’s understand in detail the reasons for their occurrence.

Why Are Extreme Disasters Taking Place?

Natural disasters occur due to nature’s forces which are beyond our control. To name a few, the movement of Earth’s crustal plates causes earthquakes and tsunamis. The variation in solar radiation entering the atmosphere and oceans create storms in summers and blizzards in winter. Natural disasters are driven by the movement of energy in Earth’s systems. They are inevitable processes. But, extreme disasters are the results of human interference.

According to the World Meteorological Organization’s Atlas of Mortality & Economic Damages from Weather, Climate, and Water Extremes (1970–2019), natural disasters were responsible for over 11000 recorded catastrophes worldwide, resulting in little over 2 million fatalities and US$ 3.64 trillion economic losses.

Primarily we, as humans, are adding more energy to the system and driving anthropogenic climate change. This increases the probability of more frequent and intense disasters such as floods, bushfires, heatwaves, and tropical cyclones. Second, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report points out, we are mismanaging natural systems. An example is the removal of buffering protection of mangroves on the coast. This move allows storm surges, making it a disastrous incident. Third, we have taken over the land cover to satiate the need for development. It exposes us to sensitive areas such as earthquake-prone lands.

Now that we know why extreme disasters take place, how can we stay ahead of them? Can Environmental Intelligence (EI) Be The Answer To This Question?

The effects of climate change continue to warm the world. Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. Global surface temperature in the first two decades of the 21st century (2001-2020) was 0.99 [0.84-1.10] °C higher than 1850-1909. The global surface temperature was 1.09 [0.95 to 1.20] °C higher in 2011– 2020 than 1850–1900, with larger increases over the land (1.59 [1.34 to 1.83] °C) than over the ocean (0.88 [0.68 to 1.01] °C). There were 772 weather and catastrophe occurrences in 2016, more than three times the amount in 1980. Currently, 20% of species are threatened with extinction, with that figure rising to 50% by 2100. Even if all nations fulfill their Paris climate commitments, average global temperatures are expected to be 3° Celsius higher by 2100 than in pre-industrial times.

Some positive news in this situation is the presence of Artificial Intelligence. Environmental insights derived from AI and ML techniques are becoming the ultimate tools that are helping us take control of the effects of climate change and ensure prevention to preserve the world better.  

In India, EI has assisted farmers in increasing groundnut yield and production by giving knowledge on how to prepare the soil, apply fertilizer, and choose planting dates, resulting in a 30% increase in yields per hectare. In Norway, EI is used to develop a flexible but autonomous power grid that incorporates more renewable energy.

Furthermore, EI has assisted researchers in achieving 89 to 99% accuracy in detecting tropical cyclones, weather fronts, and atmospheric rivers, the latter of which may produce significant precipitation and are typically difficult to detect on their own. These kinds of systems may help people stay safe by improving weather predictions.

According to Microsoft, artificial intelligence, which includes machine learning techniques, is a “game-changer” for climate change and other environmental problems. The AI for Earth initiative will invest $50 million over the next five years to develop and test new AI applications. It will eventually assist in the scaling-up and commercialization of the most promising ideas.

Learn How EI Plays Various Roles In Tackling Different Extreme Disasters

Weather – Cyclones, Thunderstorms, Hurricanes

Hurricanes are affected by a variety of climate change-related factors.

Warmer ocean temperatures may increase the speed of tropical storm winds, causing more significant damage if they reach landfall. Based on sophisticated modeling, NOAA, with the help of EI, has predicted a rise in Category 4 and 5 storms, with hurricane sustained winds rising by up to 10%. Warmer water temperatures also make storms wetter, with cyclones producing 10-15% more precipitation. Recent storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Florence in 2018, and Imelda in 2019 have shown the catastrophic flooding these high-rain hurricanes may cause.

Air Quality – Cyclones, Hail storms, Forest fires

For areas prone to breakouts, wildfires are a source of midsummer dread. The summer of 2021 in California has witnessed record-breaking wildfire outbreaks, with over 500 fire incidents exceeding 2020 by mid-July. The Dixie & August Complex fires in California in 2020 and 2021 were the state’s two biggest wildfires ever. During these incidents, forecasts from EI were used to take civilian protection efforts such as evacuating the nearby areas and preparing fire fighting crews.

Smoke pollution from approximately 900 major Canadian wildfires has severely impacted air quality across seven provinces on July 20th, 2021. Research from 2021 fires found that a 10 g m3 increase in average daily PM2.5 from wildfire smoke may increase respiratory hospitalizations by up to 10%. As the temperature warms, even traditionally colder areas of the globe, such as Siberia, see more frequent wildfires. By July 20th, wildfires had burned 3.7 million acres, spewing suffocating black smog over Russia’s North-Eastern region, making it the “driest summer in 150 years.”

Soil – Deforestation, Soil Health, Land Reclamation

Land degradation has an impact on people and ecosystems all around the world, and it is both impacted by and contributes to climate change. Land degradation harms people’s livelihoods and affects a fifth of the world’s ice-free acreage. The bulk of the 1.3 to 3.2 billion individuals affected by these changes live in poverty in emerging nations.

From the IPCC report, we know that forests, soil, and oceans have absorbed 56% of all the CO2 humanity has released into the atmosphere. Even with natural systems working, emissions have doubled. Without nature’s help, Earth would already be a much hotter and less hospitable place. But, with land degradation and depleting soil fertility, Our allies in the fight against global warming—known as Carbon sinks—are showing signs of saturation.

AI paired with environmental insights can help detect the depleting soil quality. Data from geostationary satellites, such as NDVI & EVI data, can help us recognize the problems our soil is facing. Insights can be derived from this data to maintain the health of the soil, keep in check the rate of deforestation, and design efficient land reclamation methods.

Conclusion

Environmental Intelligence is becoming one of the industry’s most reliable catastrophe preparation/disaster management systems. It is unique because it enables disaster management organizations to carry out all four stages of catastrophe management: mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery. Stakeholders utilize web-based tools to evaluate hazmat events based on several criteria such as time, jurisdiction, incident categories, and other variables. Environmental intelligence is also used to build incident sequences. Professionals in disaster management utilize EI tools to locate the nearest facility, such as a refuge, fire station, or police station, and rapidly distribute that information. EI combined with data analytics can help determine the adequacy of hospital beds, educational classrooms, and other institutions for emergency planning reasons. In the event of an active emergency, obstacles can be broken down to track the position of their volunteers efficiently. With forecasts and historical data, disaster management professionals can conduct shelter assessments in the field and give executive briefings in real-time.

Environmental Intelligence by Ambee 

Ambee, an environmental intelligence startup, offers hyperlocal, real-time, and accurate environmental intelligence for parameters like weather, air quality, pollen, fire, soil, and water vapor. With a wide range of clientele, from fortune 500 companies to startups, we look at data as the means to bring back the balance into our ecosystems. Ambee’s environmental intelligence platform offers a plethora of use-cases in fields like pharmaceuticals to precision marketing, disaster management to supply chain processes, and digital health to event management. Climate change is a global phenomenon but manifests differently in different regions. The impacts of climate change are generally experienced at local, national, and regional scales, and these are also the scales at which decisions are typically made. Our plan is to evangelize data in all these scales and help decision-makers work efficiently.  Built on the desire to democratize access to environmental data, Ambee is at the forefront of bringing access to the world’s most extensive environmental datasets to farmers, entrepreneurs, researchers, and marketers alike.

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