Open-Source Software to Allow Laymen to Analyze Climate Data

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $1 million to open-source software company Kitware Inc. to further develop ClimatePipes, a platform that enables non-researchers to model and analyze long-term climate change projections. The Phase II funding comes one year after an initial DOE grant of $150,000 allowed Kitware to begin development of ClimatePipes.

A vast depository of climate data has been collected in recent years as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, but meaningful analyses of such data has been limited. A lack of computational and visualization resources has slowed progress on researching and analyzing the reams of available climate data.

"Climate research is currently impeded by barriers that can be relieved with capable software," said Dr. Berk Geveci, Kitware's Director of Scientific Computing. "ClimatePipes will remove those barriers, enabling the public to explore climate data on their own and take part in the larger conversation about climate change."

While the proposition that climate change is occurring as a result of human activity has been a matter of overwhelming scientific consensus for several years, the public has been slower to catch on. In the United States, organized harassment of climate scientists and a well-funded misinformation campaign have conspired to render the public particularly ignorant of climate science.

But this summer's record heat waves, droughts, and wildfires have helped increase the American public's belief in climate change. Meanwhile, new analysis from the Carbon Disclosure Project suggests that U.S. companies are actually outpacing their global counterparts in making progress towards carbon goals.

The DOE's funding for ClimatePipes represents a tiny portion of the department's $5.2 billion annual budget for research and development on climate change. Kitware, which specializes in research and development in the areas of visualization, medical imaging, computer vision, quality software process, data management, and informatics, regularly works with government agencies. The opportunity to work on ClimatePipes came from an open call for proposals from DOE.

A prototype of the updated ClimatePipes software is expected for release in the fall of 2013, with the project to be completed in August, 2014. Like Kitware's other projects, ClimatePipes will be released for free. Kitware will also provide community development support and encourage users to contribute their own fixes, features and additions to the source code.

Founded in 1998 by five members of General Electric's R&D Center, Kitware generates revenue by providing consulting services for organizations seeking assistance or a customized installation. The company has averaged 31% annual revenue growth over the last five years.

"We are providing climate researchers and non-researchers with the state-of-the-art tools they need to make sense of climate change and its potential impacts," said Dr. Aashish Chaudhary, Project Leader on ClimatePipes. "We are proud to be working on a project that may benefit the world at large."

In a recent blog post, Dr. Chaudhary demonstrated some of the functionality of ClimatePipes. In its current form, the software allows users to query sets of climate data based on specific keywords, date ranges, and geographical regions. In Phase II, the platform will provide for more elaborate and relevant queries, supported by a semantic search tool that employs natural language processing techniques.