UMD Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences hosts workshop on artificial intelligence weather modeling

In a workshop hosted by the University of Maryland’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences on Thursday, a professor at the University of Oklahoma presented her work with an organization developing artificial intelligence that can study, predict and communicate extremes weather.

PhD. Amy McGovern is a professor at the Oklahoma School of Computer Science and Meteorology, and the director and principal investigator of AI2ES, an organization dedicated to developing artificial intelligence for environmental science through the National Science Foundation.

“This is an opportunity to make a difference and really save lives,” McGovern said.

Founded in 2020, AI2ES is working with universities, private tech companies and federal organizations to develop artificial intelligence that predicts severe weather and other disasters.

The group works with social scientists, who conduct interviews with forecasters and emergency managers. The focus is on communicating with those who will ultimately use the product McGovern’s team produces, with an emphasis on making artificial intelligence explainable to those who don’t study it. Both of these things increase trust in AI, McGovern said.

“If you’re developing artificial intelligence that people are going to use in life-or-death decisions, you really want to make sure it’s believable,” McGovern said. “If you miss a tornado warning, you could kill a lot of people.”

Many of AI2ES’ projects are still in beta, although its AI has been used in case studies to predict cold fronts and hail.

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Two of their models are in use at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, a busy shipping port. One for fog prediction. Another monitors the water temperature and shuts down boat traffic while the chilly turtles warm up on the water.

Igor Faris, a graduate student in oceanography, said he could see potential benefits of artificial intelligence in his field.

“AI is very hot right now in the scientific community,” he said.

In addition to developing artificial intelligence, AI2ES has been running a summer program for the past two summers. The group also launched an AI certification program at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi last fall in an effort to diversify the STEM workforce.

“First, the workforce looked like older white males. No offense to older whites,” McGovern said.

McGovern concluded the workshop by presenting a joint center for weather and climate involving artificial intelligence. She said the center could expand AI2ES work if many institutions collaborated.

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The event is part of a series of workshops hosted by the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanographic Sciences. Students and staff from the department participated in the event.

Maria Molina, assistant professor in the department, is pleased that the workshop gives students the opportunity to learn from leaders in the field.

“I’m really glad we’re back with in-person workshops and we have exciting speakers on campus,” she said.

As climate change triggers more extreme weather events, McGovern hopes her work will benefit the world.

“I really want to be able to make humans and the world’s climate more resilient and save lives,” McGovern said.

She believes artificial intelligence “will be the key.”

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