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March 9, 2017

U.N. Launches Climate Data Challenge


Big data, data analytics, cloud and other environmental technology companies have signed up to support a United Nations-sponsored climate data challenge.

U.N. Global Pulse, organizer of the big data initiative, and data storage vendor Western Digital Corp., announced a partnership on Thursday (March 9) to launch the “Data for Climate Action” challenge.

The competition is designed to leverage big data donated by “data philanthropists” to generate original research and data-driven tools to combat climate change. The tools would be incorporated into the U.N.’s long-term sustainable development efforts. Proposals from data scientists and researchers are due by April 10, 2017. Proposals can be submitted here.

The challenge utilizes big data related to climate as well as human activities linked to climate change. “Big data can provide dynamic feedback on how communities affect and are affected by the climate system, and enable innovation to increase sustainability and resilience,” said Robert Kirkpatrick, director of U.N. Global Pulse. “This data is primarily held by companies, like those participating in Data for Climate Action.”

Joining Western Digital (NASDAQ: WDC) are a lengthy list of financial and social media data analytics companies along with environmental, meteorological data and remote sensing firms. Meanwhile, Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) is pitching in with cloud support while Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA) will donate visual analytics tools.

Those data donations will give researchers access to regional, national and global datasets that have been aggregated to meet privacy standards, organizers said.

The partnership will “not only help build the narrative and framework for the Data for Climate Action challenge, but [help] to amplify and drive engagement around the data for social good movement,” Dave Tang, general manager of Western Digital’s datacenter systems business unit, noted in a statement announcing the challenge.

The climate data challenge builds on similar data science competitions such as Kaggle, which sponsors and annual “data science bowl.”

The U.N. challenge focuses specifically on crunching data to uncover insights related to mitigating the effects of climate change, climate adaptation and identifying the links between climate change and the U.N.’s goals for sustainable development over the next decade.

Researchers selected to participate in climate data challenge will have four months to conduct their research. A panel of climate and data science experts will evaluate final submissions based on competitors’ methodology, relevance and potential impact. Organizers said winners would be announced in November.

The U.N. effort comes as the Trump administration downgrades big data efforts related climate change launched by the Obama administration. Those included the White House Climate Initiative announced in December 2014 that also sought to leverage big data and commercial analytics tools.

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