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Publication Date
5 November 2018

A Trans-Disciplinary Review of Deep Learning Research and its Relevance for Water Resources Scientists



Deep learning (DL), a new generation of artificial neural network research, has transformed industries, daily lives and various scientific disciplines in recent years. DL represents significant progress in the ability of neural networks to automatically engineer problem‐relevant features and capture highly complex data distributions. I argue that DL can help address several major new and old challenges facing research in water sciences such as inter‐disciplinarity, data discoverability, hydrologic scaling, equifinality, and needs for parameter regionalization. This review paper is intended to provide water resources scientists and hydrologists in particular with a simple technical overview, trans‐disciplinary progress update, and a source of inspiration about the relevance of DL to water. The review reveals that various physical and geoscientific disciplines have utilized DL to address data challenges, improve efficiency, and gain scientific insights. DL is especially suited for information extraction from image‐like data and sequential data. Techniques and experiences presented in other disciplines are of high relevance to water research. Meanwhile, less noticed is that DL may also serve as a scientific exploratory tool. A new area termed “AI neuroscience,” where scientists interpret the decision process of deep networks and derive insights has been born. This budding sub‐discipline has demonstrated methods including correlation‐based analysis, inversion of network‐extracted features, reduced‐order approximations by interpretable models, and attribution of network decisions to inputs. Moreover, DL can also use data to condition neurons that mimic problem‐specific fundamental organizing units, thus revealing emergent behaviors of these units. Vast opportunities exist for DL to propel advances in water sciences.

“A Trans-Disciplinary Review Of Deep Learning Research And Its Relevance For Water Resources Scientists”. 2018. Water Resources Research 54: 8558-8593. doi:10.1029/2018WR022643.
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