The big impact of big data analytics on climate change can be boiled down to one thing:

Information.

Lots of it.

Since people have been collecting climate data since the late 1800s, there’s no shortage of information and statistics available on the subject today. Consider that everything from satellite images to weather reporting to sensors in the ground collecting moisture levels are contributing massive amounts of data on the state of our planet today. In fact, climate-related data is more abundant than ever.

But this new wealth of information is only half of the story. It’s what climate scientists and activists are actually doing with the data that’s making the difference.

In a recent podcast, Kirk Borne, principal data scientist for the Strategic Innovation Group at Booz Allen Hamilton and former professor of astrophysics and computational science at George Mason University, talked about climate change and the need for “prescriptive” modeling vs. “predictive” modeling. Rather than simply forecasting what will happen in the future, prescriptive models predict what will happen if we alter things. This can help determine “adjustments” that can be made to reduce impact and achieve a better outcome, according to Borne.

The key takeaway: It’s not about predicting the future, it’s about changing it. And to do that, you need as much data as possible from multiple sourcesworking together. Said Borne: “The biggest advancement to me is the integration of all these data sources.” With more information comes more intelligence, and the most creative data scientists will stop at nothing to get as much data as they can.

Case in point: A project called the Shelf Research Fleet, organized by the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation in partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, USA, has enlisted local fishermen to help catch more than fish when out in the open ocean. Collectively, the fishermen are helping data scientistsfor 18 hours a daycollect data and measure things like temperature and the salinity of seawater as they travel out to the Outer Continental Shelf and back each day.

Why are they doing it?

The fishermen, some of whom have worked on the ocean for 30 or more years, have noticed a change in currents and climate, and it’s impacting their livelihoods. This includes seeing more squid and herring, and more exotic fish like triggerfish and butterfish.

The good news: The fishermen have not only teamed up with the scientists to see if something can be done, but they are actively engaged in the process with effective collaboration happening between the fishing and science communities for the first time in years.

Listen to the National Public Radio (NPR) clip here to get the full story.

As the debate around climate change continues, one thing is for certain: Effective solutions will require massive amounts of data integrated efficiently and easily to inspire collaboration across business, government and everyday people to really make an impact.

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