CSDMS 2024: Coastlines, Critical Zones and Cascading Hazards: Modeling Dynamic Interfaces from Deep Time to Human Time

Differentiable modeling to unify neural networks and process-based modeling for global geosciences under global change

Chaopeng Shen

Pennsylvania State University, United States

Process-based modeling offers interpretability and physical consistency in many domains of geosciences but struggles to leverage large datasets efficiently. Machine-learning methods, especially deep networks, have strong predictive skills yet are not easily interpretable and are unable to answer specific scientific questions. A recently proposed genre of physics-informed machine learning, called “differentiable” modeling (DM,, trains neural networks (NNs) with process-based equations (priors) together in one stage (so-called “end-to-end”) to benefit from the best of both NNs and process-based paradigms. The NNs do not need target variables for training but can be indirectly supervised by observations matching the outputs of the combined model, and differentiability critically supports learning from big data. We propose that differentiable models are especially suitable as global- or continental-scale geoscientific models because they can harvest information from big earth observations to produce state-of-the-art predictions (, enable physical interpretation naturally, extrapolate well (due to physical constraints) in space and time, enforce known physical laws and sensitivities, and leverage progress in modern AI computing architecture and infrastructure. Differentiable models can also synergize with existing process-based models in terms of providing to them parameters or identifying optimal processes, learning from the lessons of the community. Differentiable models can answer pressing societal questions on water resources availability, climate change impact assessment, water management, and disaster risk mitigation, among others. We demonstrate the power of differentiable modeling using computational examples in rainfall-runoff modeling, river routing, ecosystem and water quality modeling, and forcing fusion. We discuss how to address potential challenges such as implementing gradient tracking for implicit numerical schemes and addressing process tradeoffs. Furthermore, we show how differentiable modeling can enable us to ask fundamental questions in hydrologic sciences and get robust answers from big global data.

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Of interest for:
  • Marine Working Group
  • Terrestrial Working Group
  • Coastal Working Group
  • Education and Knowledge Transfer (EKT) Working Group
  • Cyberinformatics and Numerics Working Group
  • Hydrology Focus Research Group
  • Chesapeake Focus Research Group
  • Critical Zone Focus Research Group
  • Human Dimensions Focus Research Group
  • Geodynamics Focus Research Group
  • Ecosystem Dynamics Focus Research Group
  • Coastal Vulnerability Initiative
  • Continental Margin Initiative
  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Initiative
  • Modeling Platform Interoperability Initiative
  • River Network Modeling Initiative