NASA and IBM Research Apply AI to Weather and Climate

The collaborative development of a weather and climate artificial intelligence (AI) foundation model supports a broad range of public safety and science applications.

A collaboration involving NASA and IBM Research has led to the development of a new artificial intelligence (AI) foundation model for weather and climate: Prithvi-weather-climate (Prithvi is the Sanskrit name for Earth). The model is pre-trained on 40 years of weather and climate data from NASA's Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications, Version 2 (MERRA-2), and fills a need to infuse AI and machine learning (ML) methods into weather and climate applications, such as storm tracking, forecasting, and historical analysis.

In keeping with NASA's open science policies, Prithvi-weather-climate will be openly available. The model and the code will be released later in 2024 through Hugging Face, a public repository for open-source ML models.

Global MERRA-2 atmospheric temperature at 650 hPa (approximately 11,500 feet) on July 12, 2016. Red/dark red colors indicate higher atmospheric temperatures; blue/purple colors indicate lower temperatures. Credit: NASA GMAO.

The Role of Foundation Models

Using AI to sift through data to find solutions requires not only massive amounts of data, but also large amounts of time. As noted by IBM Research, the next stage in AI model development is to create models pre-trained on a broad set of unlabeled data that can be used as the foundation for different tasks that require minimal fine-tuning. These are called foundation models, or FMs.

FMs are the basis for enabling AI and ML systems to ingest large amounts of data and generate results based on associations among the data. They serve as a baseline from which scientists can develop a diverse set of applications that can result in powerful and efficient solutions. Once an FM is created, it can be trained on a small amount of data to perform a specific task.

But creating and pre-training FMs still requires lots of data. When it comes to addressing the need for massive amounts openly available Earth science data, NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program is a logical source. The more than 100 petabytes (PB) of data the program distributes openly and without restriction is the secret sauce that helps make open-source Earth science-based FM development possible. This combination of open NASA Earth science data and IBM Research's state-of-the-art computational power led to the groundbreaking work using NASA Harmonized Landsat and Sentinel-2 (HLS) data to create the Prithvi Geospatial FM, the first open-source geospatial FM, in 2023. Prithvi-weather-climate builds on this achievement.

"Foundation models offer amazing prospects for expanding the use of NASA’s vast archive of Earth observations," says NASA Earth Data Officer Katie Baynes. "The Prithvi-weather-climate model holds promise to advance our understanding of atmospheric dynamics and developing new applications. We're excited to see how the community can leverage this work to enhance resilience to climate and weather-related hazards."

Creating Prithvi-weather-climate

Participants at the Prithvi-weather-climate workshop at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which took place September 20 and 21, 2023. The diverse team included experts from NASA, IBM Research, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NVIDIA Corporation, and universities engaged in AI research and development. Image: Dr. Rahul Ramachandran/NASA IMPACT.

Work on Prithvi-weather-climate began in September 2023 with a workshop at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Marshall is the home of NASA's Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team (IMPACT), a NASA ESDS element charged with expanding the use of NASA Earth observation data through innovation, partnerships, and technology—including the application of AI to these data. 

"This model is part of our overall strategy to openly and collaboratively develop a family of AI foundation models to support NASA's science mission goals," says IMPACT Manager Dr. Rahul Ramachandran. "These models will augment our capabilities to draw insights from our vast archives of Earth observations."

Joining the IMPACT and IBM Research teams in developing Prithvi-weather-climate were participants from NASA Headquarters, NASA's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO), NASA's Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS), the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Facility, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and NVIDIA Corporation. Several universities engaged in various aspects of AI or large-scale computing and weather/climate science participated as well, including the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Colorado State University, and Stanford University.

The focus of the Marshall workshop was to plan the next six to eight months of work necessary to develop and pre-train the model. It was decided that the FM would contain parameters such as wind speed and direction, air temperature, specific humidity, cloud mass variables, and longwave and shortwave radiation variables. To be valuable to the broader science community, the team agreed that the focus should not be on forecasting; rather, the FM should enable many different types of downstream science applications.


MERRA-2 aerosol optical depth (AOD) for July 21, 2012, when a massive dust storm was moving off the northwest coast of Africa. White and yellow colors indicate lower AOD values and a cleaner atmosphere; purples and reds indicate higher AOD values and higher concentrations of atmospheric aerosols. Credit: NASA GMAO.

The foundation of Prithvi-weather-climate is 40 years of MERRA-2 data. MERRA-2 is the first long-term global reanalysis to assimilate space-based observations of aerosols and represent their interactions with other physical processes in the climate system. These data are available through NASA's Earthdata Search. MERRA-2 was created by NASA's GMAO to replace and enhance the original MERRA and to sustain GMAO's commitment to having an ongoing near real-time climate analysis.

"With the Prithvi-weather-climate FM, NASA and IBM have led the creation of a unique AI representation of all knowledge available in 40 years' worth of MERRA-2 data," says Dr. Juan Bernabé-Moreno, director of IBM Research Europe and IBM’s accelerated discovery lead for climate and sustainability. "The IBM-NASA collaboration highlights how open-source technologies are essential to advancing crucial research into areas such as climate change. By merging IBM's foundation model technology with NASA's deep expertise and specialized climate datasets, we've developed flexible, reusable AI systems for broader use."

Applications to Science and Society

The Prithvi-weather-climate FM has broad applications for both science and society.

From a scientific and research standpoint, the model has been fine-tuned to increase the resolution of long-term climate models by a factor of 12x, a process known as "downscaling." Using an AI model in this context avoids the high costs associated with the conventional approach using high performance computing (HPC). The FM also improves the use of AI for better representation of small-scale physical processes in numerical weather and climate models. Through the insertion of tokens in the model at wind turbine locations, Prithvi-weather-climate can generate targeted forecasts using hyper-localized, asset-specific observations, further improving the accuracy of short to medium-range forecasts.

The application of AI to weather and climate data also can lead to improvements in public safety. Uses being developed by the research team for Prithvi-weather-climate include more precise hurricane track and intensity forecasts along with better seasonal precipitation forecasting. As the model continues to be trained, future applications include the detection and prediction of severe weather patterns, more detailed wildfire behavior forecasts, finer turbulence detection and prediction, urban heatwave prediction, and improved solar radiation assessment.

"Our ambition is to accelerate and advance the impact of NASA's Earth science to meet this moment of changing climate for the benefit of all humankind," says Dr. Karen St. Germain, director of NASA's Earth Science Division. "The [NASA/IBM Research] foundation model for weather and climate will enable this Earth Science to Action strategy."

Meet the Team

Along with the participants noted in the Creating Prithvi-weather-climate section, the development of the FM was accomplished by a diverse team with deep experience representing varied aspects of AI and ML.

Prithvi-weather-climate Element Element Leads
Model Development: NASA, University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and ORNL Dr. Sujit Roy, UAH
Dr. Arlindo da Silva, NASA GMAO
Dr. Valentine Anantharaj, ORNL
Model Development: IBM Dr. Johannes Schmude
Dr. Johannes Jakubik
Dr. Anne Jones
Dr. Julian Kuehnert
Dr. S. Karthik Mukkavilli
Dr. Daniel Salles Civitarese
Shraddha Singh
Dr. Daniela Szwarcman
Dr. Will Trojak
Science Expertise Dr. Arlindo da Silva, NASA GMAO
Use Case Development Dr. Christopher Phillips, UAH
Dr. Rajat Shinde, UAH
Ankur Kumar, UAH
Vishal Gaur, UAH
Dr. Amy Lin, UAH
Dr. Aristeidis Tsaris, ORNL
Dr. Simon Pfreundschuh, Colorado State University
Dr. Aman Gupta, Stanford University
Infrastructure Mike Little, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Dr. Mark Carroll, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Shubha Ranjan, NASA's Ames Research Center, NAS
Bill Thigpen, NASA's Ames Research Center, NAS
Leadership/Technical Oversight Dr. Rahul Ramachandran, NASA IMPACT
Dr. Manil Maskey, NASA IMPACT
Dr. Tsengdar Lee, NASA Headquarters
Dr. Juan Bernabé-Moreno, IBM

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