Azavea Wins Grant to Build an Interactive Climate Modeling Service for Local Governments

Azavea Wins Grant to Build an Interactive Climate Modeling Service for Local Governments

Azavea is honored to again be awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, this time a $225,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop an online climate impact assessment tool.  In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Azavea’s Phase I development work will focus on building a prototype for a single city that will support fast calculation of climate impact maps based on user-input.

A couple of weeks ago, the White House announced several new initiatives aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change, and we were excited to see our OpenTreeMap software listed as a contemporary technology for tracking ecosystem services value.  Climate change is not a new topic.  We are all familiar with reports of the potential risks and impacts from climate change; each new IPCC assessment report has been more dire than the last.  These reports are useful (and perhaps sometimes frightening) but they are often presented as an abstract set of impacts – like sea level rise or weather volatility – that will occur at a national or global scale.  But most people find it difficult to relate to abstract threats or concerns, particularly if they are many years in the future.  Rather, we generally find it easier to understand impacts that will affect us in our local community.  This project aims to create online software tools that will enable local planners, designers and decision-makers to better understand and address the climate change risks in their local communities.  These local impact risks include extreme weather events, regional food yields, water supply, and urban energy demand specific to their communities.

Contemporary climate change models are known as General Circulation Models (GCMs).  GCMs use quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, and sea ice over past or future time periods.  The GCM results delivered by national and global climate modeling projects are very large data sets.  And that’s the rub.  Processing these huge data sets and enabling their use at a local level is a computationally intense endeavor, particularly if the objective is an interactive impact modeling experience for local decision-makers.  This initial Department of Energy research grant will enable Azavea to solve the technology problems required to make location-specific climate risk assessment possible.

Azavea has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to develop the project.  The Conservancy has both developed their own climate data portal and has experience working with the GCM data sets, and their input and feedback will be critical to successful research effort.  Azavea will also leverage and enhance GeoTrellis, our open source high-speed geoprocessing framework, to support interactive climate impact modeling.  While Azavea’s Phase I development work will focus on a single geographic location and a subset of climate and socioeconomic data, once a prototype is complete, we will be eligible to apply for Phase II funding, which will enable scaling of the application to nationwide coverage as well as enable users to upload locally relevant data sets.

As a B Corporation, Azavea is dedicated to working on projects that will have a positive civic and social impact. This research grant is a great fit alongside our land conservation, urban environment and ecosystems efforts.  It also builds on our work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy and urban forestry modeling tools funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  I am really excited about this opportunity to leverage our experience with processing big geospatial data sets and extend our GeoTrellis framework to support work with climate data.

This project is supported by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Award Number (DE-SC0011303).