AWS Public Sector Blog

How the cloud is helping remove barriers to addressing climate change

windmills over a green hill with orange sunset

Addressing climate change requires us to understand not only how human actions impact the climate system but also how changes to the climate will impact our planet, our communities and our businesses. Data is core to measuring, modeling and managing these processes, and governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and corporations around the world have done a lot of work to collect and generate datasets that support this goal. However, given the large size of most of this data and its complexity, only those with access to large computer storage and analytical capabilities are able to access and use those datasets. This significantly limits the number of people, the diversity of thought and experience, and the expertise at the table as we try to address this complex problem.

What if we were to democratize access to data and compute so that anyone, anywhere in the world could contribute to climate science? The Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI) seeks to accelerate sustainability research and innovation by minimizing the cost and time required to acquire and analyze large sustainability datasets. ASDI supports innovators and researchers with the data, tools, and technical expertise they need to advance sustainability initiatives.

Enabling simpler access to foundational data on AWS

ASDI is committed to making climate-relevant data easier to access and analyze. ASDI’s growing data catalog comprises petabytes of open data. Users do not need to have an AWS account to access the data. The ASDI team works with data providers (e.g., US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)) to remove barriers to accessing datasets by hosting them on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud. The AWS Data Sponsorship Program covers the costs for storing ASDI data in the cloud as well as egress related costs. Data providers retain complete control and ownership of the datasets while committing to making it publically available to anyone.

Datasets categories in the ASDI catalog include weather, climate, water, agriculture, satellite imagery, elevation, air quality, energy, ecosystems, disaster response, and oceans. An example of a climate foundational dataset is the NOAA’s Global Historical Climatology Network Daily (GHCN-D), which contains daily measurements (e.g., precipitation, maximum and minimum temperature, etc.) from land-based stations worldwide—some data dating back to 1793. This historical climatology is critical to analyze trends in past weather conditions. Data from the Global Forecast System (GFS), the NOAA official weather forecast system, is also available. nauticAI is using this data to optimize ship navigation focusing on safety and efficiency.

Satellite imagery available through ASDI is empowering groups to support the creation of climate services. Solcast, for example, a global solar forecasting and solar irradiance data modelling company, is using NOAA GOES’s data to deliver products for the solar industry to enable better power generation forecasts. Landsat imagery is supporting Dendra Systems, a technology-enabled service provider addressing restoration of natural ecosystems globally.

ASDI seeks to enable access to relevant and authoritative data about the future climate. Datasets like the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX) Downscaled Climate Projections (NEX-DCP30) or National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR’s) Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM LENS) are helping researchers evaluate how the climate is expected to evolve years into the future and how those conditions may impact our planet and our life style. For example, Four Twenty Seven, an affiliate of Moody’s, leverage scientific datasets like the NEX-DCP30 to provide climate risk scores for real assets and listed securities, informing investors and corporations globally.

To support access to the most updated and authoritative climate projections, ASDI is working with the Earth System Grid Federation to create the first cloud node to access CMIP6 data on AWS. A subset of this authoritative climate dataset, traceable to the ESGF, is now on AWS. Products derived from CMIP6 (e.g., CMIP6 GCMs downscaled using WRF) are also available on AWS through the ASDI catalog.

Delivering climate-relevant data to underserved communities

ASDI is committed to democratizing access to data to underserved communities. For example, Digital Earth Africa uses datasets including Copernicus Sentinel-2 and USGS Landsat satellite imagery in the new AWS Africa (Cape Town) Region, so users across the continent gain fast access to petabytes of decision-ready satellite data. DE Africa will help African nations track changes across the continent in unprecedented detail by making Earth observation (EO) data more easily accessible. This will provide valuable insights for better decision-making around prevention and planning in areas including flooding, droughts, soil and coastal erosion, agriculture, and forest-cove. A recent report by the World Economic Forum, Unlocking the potential of Earth Observation to address Africa’s critical challenges, predicted that making satellite images available to the African Continent can support industrial growth, environment protection, healthcare and education. New estimates reveal that access to climate satellite data presents a $2 billion opportunity in Africa alone.

Offsetting the cost of cloud-based experimentation

Staging large, authoritative datasets in the cloud, next to scalable compute and cloud services supports quick access and analysis of the data. To offset the cost of experimentation and encourage prototyping of cloud-based solutions for climate action, ASDI has an open call for proposals for AWS Promotional Credit. Through AWS Promotional Credit, climate researchers, developers, and decision-makers can harness Amazon’s technology to develop solutions for their biggest data-related sustainability challenges.

Cloud grants delivered through ASDI, and complementary access to climate change datasets like NEX-GDDP, helped groups like Azavea prototype Temperate, a cloud-platform to help communities assess and manage climate-related risk. Access to AWS Promotional Credit, the complete Sentinel-2 archive, and on-demand scalable compute resources, supported Sinergise to develop the Bluedot Observatory, a free tool to monitor water bodies at risk, globally.

ASDI has also established collaborations with key trusted partners in the community to scale its reach and impact. Through the Earth Observation Cloud Credits Programme, AWS, with the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), committed $1.5 million USD worth of cloud services, grants, and technical support to 21 projects from 17 developing countries. Under this program, grantees benefit from easier access to EO data and cloud computing to develop applications that support sustainable environmental development including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Promoting knowledge exchange for faster innovation

ASDI provides a venue for anyone to share resources such as tutorials, publications, and applications that demonstrate how open data and cloud technology are helping tackle some of the small and large sustainability-related problems. Check out more stories from ASDI members.

AWS is helping build, through open source governance, collaboration structures, and licensing, an artificial intelligence-enhanced platform to fully integrate climate risk and opportunity factors into investment decision-making called OS-Climate. OS-Climate leverages the ASDI data catalog as well as AWS cloud technology for its development.

Learn more about ASDI and listen to the episode of the AWS Fix This podcast on Earth Day.


Ana Pinheiro Privette

Ana Pinheiro Privette

Dr. Ana Pinheiro Privette is the Head for Sustainability for AWS Impact Computing, and the Global Lead for the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI). ASDI seeks to accelerate sustainability research and innovation by minimizing the cost and time required to acquire and analyze large sustainability datasets. Ana was trained as an environmental engineer and as an earth scientist at the New University of Lisbon (Portugal) and at MIT. She spent most of her career as a research scientist at NASA and NOAA. Later, Ana worked on the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) focusing on bringing more transparency and traceability of the data sources supporting this climate report, and led projects for the White House climate portfolio, including the Obama Climate Data Initiative (CDI) and the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP).

Zac Flamig

Zac Flamig

Zac Flamig is a tech business development manager for open data at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Zac is an Earth scientist with an interest in using remote sensing and in situ measurements to make the world a better place. His particular focus area so far has been floods; he developed a hydrologic modeling framework to forecast flooding that is used by the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) and NASA.