October 31, 2022

Simulating the Effects of Climate Change

PNNL joint appointee Auroop Ganguly uses data science for climate studies

Ozone-depleting chemicals moving from the equator to the poles.

This conceptual image depicts ozone-depleting chemicals moving from the equator to the poles.

(Image: NASA)

From ozone holes to flash floods, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) joint appointee and chief scientist Auroop Ganguly studies a broad range of climate events using data science.

His latest work shows how climate variability can be detrimental to insect populations. In a paper published in Nature Climate Change and featured in a research briefing, Ganguly and his team from Northeastern University outline how fluctuations in temperature put some insect species at risk of extinction.

“Insects fill so many critical niches in the ecosystem, from food production to waste disposal,” said Kate Duffy, lead author of the paper. “Nearly all of the insect species we studied showed an increased risk of extinction under future climate simulations.”

Being cold blooded, insects cannot regulate their temperature the way humans do. This makes them more vulnerable to temperature changes in the environment. Previous studies looked at how insect populations could be affected by average global temperatures increasing over time. Duffy, Ganguly, and Northeastern researcher Tarik Gouhier instead looked at temperature variability over time to see how insect populations would fare.

“If we just looked at the projected average temperatures over the next 100 years, we wouldn’t expect insect populations to be affected too much,” said Duffy. “But when we looked more closely at the data, we saw that temperature fluctuations—like heat waves and cold snaps—often crossed the threshold of what insects can handle.”

These fluctuations were even more pronounced in temperate regions, like the continental United States, than tropical ones.

The researchers built mathematical and statistical models based on field studies of insect population growth combined with the latest Earth system models for their studies. Their results indicate that nearly all the insect species studied are at risk of being wiped out at some point between 2050 and 2100.

Though this is just a starting point for these types of studies, this foundational research can help inform a comprehensive strategy for preservation and restoration of insect populations.

Ganguly oversaw Duffy’s research as part of an experiential PhD program at Northeastern University that allows students to conduct their research with external research organizations—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Duffy’s case.

Ganguly also has several projects at PNNL that his Northeastern students can contribute to in the same type of program as Duffy. Ganguly's PhD student Jack Watson and undergraduate student Autumn Rayne Skillin are currently interning at PNNL in a project led by PNNL scientist Samrat Chatterjee.

The research was primarily supported by grants from the National Science Foundation with additional funds from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the NASA Ames Research Center.

Ganguly's Sustainability and Data Sciences Laboratory has a strong focus on climate and cities or lifelines, as well as data sciences and artificial intelligence. Besides high impact and award-winning publications in this space, he and his students and postdocs have obtained US patents, spawned successful startups, contributed to urban climate readiness action plans, led the Neural Networks section of Department of Energy's AI4ESP efforts, been cited in all recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR6 and U.S. National Climate Assessments, and been quoted by the mainstream national and global media.

This year, Ganguly was invited to join the U.N. Environmental Effects Assessment Panel review, which he has participated in since the initial assessment in 2010. As part of this panel, Ganguly helps translate research findings on the interactions between the ozone hole and climate change into public policy.

Ganguly also acts as the lead principal investigator for the Networked Infrastructures under Compound Extremes (NICE) project under the DOD Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program. Multiple PNNL scientists led by Chatterjee are part of this project, along with researchers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Naval Research Laboratory, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Ganguly has been a joint appointee and chief scientist in the Advanced Computing, Mathematics and Data Division at PNNL since 2020. He is also a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, where he has affiliate appointments with the Khoury College of Computer Science and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.