Google’s AI flood prediction tool can forecast 7 days out, up from 2

Google says its AI-powered flood forecasting program, the Flood Forecasting Initiative launched in 2018, can now issue life-saving forecasts seven days in advance, from 48 hours.

“Considering the importance and damage of floods now, with tens of thousands of deaths per year and hundreds of millions of people affected, there has been a really big gap in the availability of reliable and effective flood forecasting systems,” said Sella Nevo, the lead engineer for Google’s flood forecasting program.

Google’s updated forecasting system uses what Nevo calls “globally available data,” such as weather reports and satellite imagery, to predict future flood events, whereas previously Google’s system relied heavily on data obtained from river gauges—on-site sensors that measure flow levels . and river volume.

River gauges only show when the river is already overflowing, indicating an imminent flood, but analyzing weather patterns allows Google to anticipate river flooding and issue early warnings. By focusing on comprehensive information, public data also makes the flood forecasting system reach a global level, as the machine learning model is able to use data from rivers with a flood history to predict floods in the valleys with a model that does not have historical data.

Nevo says Google’s advanced prediction model can predict floods “significantly” further away than the current global standard for flood warnings, the EU-led Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS). Providing accurate forecasts can help save thousands of lives from floods.

But, once a forecast is made, alerting people on the ground is the second part of the puzzle that Google is solving, particularly through its Global Flood Hub site—the interactive, user-facing side of the system.

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“Flood Hub is completely improved,” Nova said. The Google Maps-like Flood Hub site displays flood warnings as red markers are pinned to vulnerable areas. Clicking on the marker brings up a chart showing the flood water level compared to normal and dangerous values.

But, in case users are not actively aware of Flood Hub, Google also issues specific warnings through Google Search and Google Maps services, and also posts notifications to vulnerable Google users. Sella says the company sent 115 million flood warning alerts last year.

Google does all this—analyzing data, predicting floods, and sharing that information with NGOs and governments to improve their disaster prevention services—for free. Flood Hub is part of the company’s AI for Social Good platform and Nevo says he doubts Google will ever charge for the life-saving service Flood Hub is designed to provide.

Whether Google one day repurposes the Flood Hub tools to build commercial products, such as agricultural flood forecasting services, is another matter. While Nevo captures data that farmers may be interested in—such as flood timing—it’s very different from the traditional disaster warning that Flood Hub is currently capable of.

“We can honestly provide everything for free in a sustainable way,” Nevo said, referring to the Flood Hub in its current iteration. So the kind of work we are doing today, I don’t think we will ever ask for money.”

Eamon Barrett
[email protected]
@eamonbarrett88

A CARBON COPY

Climate change

The COP 27 conference on climate change continues in Egypt and was opened with an uncontested agreement, obtained by the leaders attending the meeting, to include climate change negotiations in the agenda of this conference. The filing marks the first time diplomats will discuss payments for climate-related “losses and damages” since COP meetings began in the 1990s. At stake is how wealthy economies with historically high levels of pollution should compensate developing economies for the damage caused by climate change. Bloomberg

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Just Energy Transition Partnership

Last year, at COP 26, four rich countries agreed to give South Africa 8.5 billion dollars to help the region get rid of coal. Coal supplies 85 percent of South Africa’s electricity needs, making the country the 13th largest carbon emitter in the world. Forecasters predict that wind power could provide three times the country’s current electricity needs, making the transition to renewables an obvious benefit. But some in South Africa believe that the rich countries of the North should pay more for the transition to the Global South, and that the 8.5 billion dollars is a small start to cover the country’s costs. FT

Carbon neutral residues

Kuwait announced at the opening of the COP 27 forum in Egypt this week that the small, oil-rich country will achieve carbon neutrality in its oil and gas industry by 2050, joining a group of oil-producing countries committed to reducing emissions. Saudi Arabia has said its sovereign wealth fund, financed by oil sales, will also hold a net-zero portfolio by 2050. Reuters

Climate change hits home

“The things Americans value most are at risk,” says a draft report of the National Climate Assessment, the US government’s lead contribution to assessing the impact of climate change on America’s coasts. Safe homes, healthy families, reliable public services and a sustainable economy are among the “things” the draft report highlights as a threat to US climate change, noting that the fallout from global warming is “far reaching and getting worse.” The NYT

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IF YOU MISSED

Microsoft boss says solving climate change goes beyond cutting pollution: ‘The biggest challenge is the supply of skilled people’ by Alena Botros

ReNew Power’s Sumant Sinha: ‘It’s time for US and India to lead on climate action’ by Sumant Sinha

‘People and vulnerable communities pay’: Adapting to climate change could cost developing countries $340 billion by the end of the decade. by Alena Botros

Decarbonize–but do it in moderation. Carbon removal should not be the new frontier of injustice by Fletcher Harper and Cynthia Scharf

Promises to plant trees are good news for fighting climate change—but we don’t have enough seeds by Jad Daley And Yishan Wong

CLOSING NO

2.7°C

All G20 countries, representing the world’s richest economies, have set long-term targets to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions (Mexico it is the only member that does not mean net-zero emissions.) But, according to a new report from FTSE Russell, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group, only seven of those member countries have set targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to just 2°C. As a collective, the G20 has set policies that could lead to a 2.7°C temperature rise by the end of the century.

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