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Professor Shaddick uses data science and complex statistical models to find solutions to real-life problems facing planet earth.

Scientists from Exeter and Hong Kong use the power of data to understand links between human activity and environmental change

Scientists from the University of Exeter and the Chinese University of Hong Kong are joining forces to exploit the power of data to protect individuals and cities from environmental threats. Typhoons, flooding, air pollution, plastic waste and climate change are global problems that are all too familiar to the people of Hong Kong. Without action, risks from environmental hazards are set to increase and will affect our health, wealth, safety and, in extreme cases, threaten life.

Now scientists at the University of Exeter, working with the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) are using ‘big data’ to provide a better understanding of the links between human activity and environmental change. By revealing patterns in data, they can produce accurate predictions of environmental hazards, including the impact of extreme weather events or poor air quality and, on a longer time frame, the effects of climate change.

Professor Gavin Shaddick, Chair of Data Science and Statistics at the University of Exeter, says: “Together with our partners in Hong Kong, we are using data science and environmental intelligence to find practical solutions to reduce the risks associated with a range of environmental threats and protect lives in this part of Asia and beyond.”
A major step forward is the capability to produce personalised information that has the potential to save lives. In the past we have only been able to predict environmental threats, for example air quality, at a regional or city level but by using big data we can provide specific information at street level or direct to an individual’s phone. The potential economic and safety benefits for individuals, businesses and governments are huge”.

Professor Gabriel Lau, Co-Director of the Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability at CUHK says: “We are taking big strides forward in our use of data and high-performance computer research on climate prediction. With this intelligence we can make more accurate assessments of climate change and predictions of extreme weather events. Our progress in this area has the potential to improve the way we respond to environmental hazards and has the possibility to save lives.”

An exciting area of research is the use of social media and smart phone data to help understand the impact of environmental hazards, build a rich picture of human behaviour and develop effective responses to protect individuals.

Low-cost environmental sensors, data from smart phones and real-time information uploaded on social media can be used in combination with scientific data to provide ultra-precise predictions that benefit communities and emergency services. Professor Shaddick uses data science and complex statistical models to find solutions to real-life problems facing planet earth. Working with the World Health Organization, he is leading research into global air quality, using remote sensing satellites, weather models, and chemical transport models to better understand the effects of air quality on health.

Date: 16 April 2019

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