Using social media to track extreme weather events

Published on: 15 April 2016

Biosciences researchers are using data from social media to find out about the impact climate change has on people’s lives. Systems Ecology lecturer Dr Hywel Williams explains more in this video.

Many people share posts and comments via social media on a daily basis, and this ever-growing bank of social information is now being put to use in climate change research. Through monitoring climate-related posts in the UK over time, Dr Williams’ team have recorded clusters of social media activity that coincide with extreme weather events such as flooding and storms.

Dr Williams said: “These sorts of weather hazards are predicted to increase as climate changes, and while we have good methods for observing those in nature, what we don’t know much about is how they affect people’s lives.

"Looking at the social media data can really tell us a lot about the problems people face and how they respond to these sorts of weather hazard.”

Informed by this data on how people deal with extreme weather conditions, the researchers are working with partners in the UK, Europe and Africa to help create strategies for adaptation and resilience to climate change.

The project, funded by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC), also has benefits for environmental charities and campaign groups. Dr Williams has found strong online communities of people who are actively engaged in trying to tackle climate change ('activists'), and similar communities of 'sceptics' who do not believe climate change is caused by humans; however there is relatively little interaction between the two groups. This information has helped inform the communication strategies of organisations campaigning to slow down climate change.

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