Ice-free summers will soon be the shocking reality in the Arctic, new research published on the eve of Earth Day suggests – but can AI save the planet?
Earth Day, an annual celebration of the world in support of environmental protection always held on April 22, reaches a half-century this year. Since 1970, the Earth Day Network (EDN) has expanded and now includes some 193 countries in 2020. What will that ecosystem make of the current situation, with dozens of nations locked down and traumatised because of the coronavirus outbreak?
EDN’s mission is to “build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet”. The organisation, which claims to have mobilised one billion people and has over 75,000 partners working to drive affirmative action, uses the acronym SAVE. It stands for the following: speak up; act; vote; and educate. Certainly, more saving needs to be done.
However, amid a global pandemic, it is easy to forget that another worldwide crisis is unfolding, albeit at a slower pace. In essence, a silent, tortuous suffocation compared with the rapier-like shock of COVID-19.
Given that the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic is now odds on to happen before 2050, according to new research – and that’s even if the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis are quickly reduced – then it’s worth remembering how sick the planet was before coronavirus had passed anyone’s lips, less than half-a-year ago.
The recent research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, gathered from 40 of the latest computer models, shows that the summer Arctic ice has lost 40 per cent of its area and almost three-quarters of its volume since 1979. Last year it even decreased to its second-lowest extent on record, in a clear indication that human-caused global heating is affecting the planet and its delicate ecosystems.
UNEXPECTED AND EXTREMELY WORRYING
“Alarmingly the models repeatedly show the potential for ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean before 2050, almost irrespective of the measures taken to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Ed Blockley, leader of the UK Met Office’s polar climate programme, one of the team to produce the research. “The signal is there in all possible futures. This was unexpected and is extremely worrying.”
The analysis was coordinated by Dirk Notz, a professor at the University of Hamburg, who added: “If we keep global warming below 2C, Arctic sea ice will nevertheless likely disappear occasionally in summer even before 2050. This really surprised us.”
The irony is air pollution has fallen drastically since the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of people into lockdown, halted global travel and shuttered heavy industries around the globe. Photographs taken before and after shutdown highlight a visible difference in air quality, including New Delhi in India, which is frequently ranked among the world’s most polluted cities. Now New Delhi’s residents enjoy daily blue skies with the heavy pall of smog that often hung over the city lifted.
The doors to the factories will open again soon, and airports will be crammed again before long. So is it too late to SAVE the world? Or can technology save the day? Earth Day is a call to arms for people to join forces and combat the ongoing climate change crisis through creativity and innovation.
Can we find solutions to tackle rising sea levels, Co2 emissions as well as natural disasters? Admittedly, over the last 50 years, technology has transformed so many aspects of our lives – for the better. Can tech now assist in the ongoing climate change battle that could, unchecked, so easily kill the future of humanity?
POWER OF AI
Asheesh Mehra, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Singapore-headquartered AntWorks, an artificial intelligence and intelligent automation company, is confident AI and machine learning can play a vital role in combating climate change in more ways than one.
He says the technology can identify with accuracy and precision changes in climate, therefore enabling scientists to make real-time adjustments to assessments. Moreover, AI can help provide better climate models, identify patterns in extreme weather changes and identify areas of high air pollution.
“Climate change is one of the biggest global crises we’ve ever faced,” he says. “So far, we’ve been slow to react and as we continue to see sea levels increase, more natural disasters, and the long-term breakdown of our ecosystems, finding a practical solution through technology has never been more critical.
“AI has the power to play a critical role in combating detrimental changes to our environment by giving us access to actionable data that wasn’t previously available. Not only can AI improve the prediction of extreme weather events and provide scientists with accurate insights on regional climate changes, it also requires less computing power and is less energy-intensive, than most other technologies – two factors that contribute significantly to the increasing carbon emissions.”
Mr Mehra continues: “AI engines built on fractal science can be the key towards combating global warming as they don’t require huge data sets to garner accurate results – about one-tenth compared with other neural science-based AI solutions, which are more common today. The deterministic nature of fractal science also means that it only requires a smaller representative data set for training.
“Smaller data sets need less infrastructure and far less computing power, in turn lowering costs and reducing the carbon footprint left behind. That makes a fractal-powered solution one of the most exciting new innovative solutions in combating climate change in a way that is both better for business and the environment.”
Perhaps it’s not too late to save the planet, after all.