We investigate novel approaches to detecting, classifying and characterizing extreme weather events, such as atmospheric rivers (ARs), in large high-dimensional climate datasets. ARs are narrow filaments of concentrated water vapour in the atmosphere that bring much of the precipitation in many mid-latitude regions. The precipitation associated with ARs is also responsible for major flooding events in many coastal regions of the world, including the west coast of the United States and western Europe.
In this study we combine ideas from Topological Data Analysis (TDA) with Machine Learning (ML) for detecting, classifying and characterizing extreme weather events, like ARs. TDA is a new field that sits at the interface between topology and computer science, that studies “shape” -- hidden topological structure -- in raw data. It has been applied successfully in many areas of applied sciences, including complex networks, signal processing and image recognition.
Using TDA we provide ARs with a shape characteristic as a new feature descriptor for the task of AR classification. In particular, we track the change in topology in precipitable water (integrated water vapour) fields using the Union-Find algorithm. We use the generated feature descriptors with ML classifiers to establish reliability and classification performance of our approach. We utilize the parallel toolkit for extreme climate events analysis (TECA: Petascale Pattern Recognition for Climate Science, Prabhat et al., Computer Analysis of Images and Patterns, 2015) for comparison (it is assumed that events identified by TECA is ground truth). Preliminary results indicate that our approach brings new insight into the study of ARs and provides quantitative information about the relevance of topological feature descriptors in analyses of a large climate datasets. We illustrate this method on climate model output and NCEP reanalysis datasets. Further, our method outperforms existing methods on detection and classification of ARs. This work illustrates that TDA combined with ML may provide a uniquely powerful approach for detection, classification and characterization of extreme weather phenomena.