Hackers Scrambling to Save Climate Data from Trump Administration

Virtual climate

Building better climate models is becoming more important, as scientists work to predict the potential effects of a warming planet. Supercomputers are already integral to our understanding of atmospheric changes. "Whenever you see forecasters on TV, that weather movie took hours and hours to render on a supercomputer," says Sumit Gupta, a general manager at Nvidia's accelerated computing unit. (Nvidia's chips help power Titan.) But the best supercomputers today fall short of researchers' goals. If you think of the globe as an image, the best supercomputers can only render pixels the size of 14 square kilometers. An exascale computer could bring that down to one square kilometer. The effect? Scientists could see the impact of minutely detailed climate factors such as individual cloud formations and ocean eddies.

Wired has provided a glimpse into an initiative to download and securely store reams of climate and environmental data from the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the Trump administration takes power. The organizers of the work, including some based at the University of Toronto, were initially motivated by widespread environmental data destruction under Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The work of archiving government data involves dozens of programmers, scientists, and librarians both downloading public-facing websites, and archiving databases tracking everything from greenhouse emissions to ocean currents to hazardous materials accidents.

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Some of those databases can only be downloaded and archived in bulk using software custom-built on the fly, including at a recent session in Philadelphia and a previous gathering in Toronto. A similar hackathon was held on Inauguration Day at UCLA, with others reported in Chicago and Indianapolis.

Data, which is also being carefully tagged by teams of librarians, will be archived at portals including Datarefuge.org and the Internet Archive.

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The work remains incomplete, though, and those within the project consider it urgent. Sources familiar with the Trump transition have now said there are plans to remove at least some data related to Obama-era regulatory initiatives. Trump’s nominee for EPA head, Scott Pruitt, is a climate-change skeptic and has sued the EPA multiple times to halt the enforcement of environmental regulations, making it likely that environmental data gathering and maintenance will be deprioritized under his leadership.

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