FutureLab on Artificial Intelligence in the Anthropocene

Machine Learning and data-driven Modelling in Earth System Science

Many phenomena in Earth system dynamics are complex in the sense that they emerge from nonlinear interactions of large numbers of processes across wide ranges of temporal and spatial scales. Modelling such phenomena on the basis of the underlying fundamental physical laws poses serious challenges, in particular in situations of strongly nonlinear behavior that may lead to abrupt state transitions, or if one is interested in the characteristics of extreme events.

In this Future Lab, hosted by PIK’s Research Department 4, we explore mathematical techniques to investigate and model complex Earth system processes with a strong focus on data-driven approaches.

Key research questions

How can techniques from Complexity Science and Machine Learning complement physical process-based approaches to

  • quantify the likelihood of abrupt transitions and extreme events in a warming Earth system?
  • improve predictions of extreme weather events on time scales of days to weeks?
  • assess the ecological impacts of a warming climate and changing extreme event characteristics?


We mainly employ methods from Complexity Science and Machine Learning such as

  • Complex Networks / Graphs for exploring dependencies in large datasets of climatic and ecosystem observables, to develop first hypotheses on underlying coupling mechanisms, and as a tool to coarse grain the data to extract the most relevant information
  • Bayesian inference for systematic calibration of physics-based low-order models that capture the key dynamics of the natural systems under study
  • Artificial Neural Networks to model (emergent) processes that are challenging to tackle with more traditional, primitive differential-equation-based approaches


If you are interested in carrying out a BSc, MSc, or PhD project with us, please to discuss possible topics.


We currently focus on the following areas of applications within the Earth system:

  • Abrupt climate transitions that have occurred in the Earth's long-term past, as evidenced in paleoclimate proxy records
  • Extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods
  • Impacts of a warming climate and changing extreme-event characteristics on ecosystems, currently with a focus on boreal forests


Associated projects

  • EU Horizon 2020 project 'Tipping Points in the Earth System' (TiPES)
  • Freigeist Research group 'Predicting abrupt transitions and extremes in the Earth system' (FU Berlin, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation)
  • BMBF project ClimXtreme - Subproject B3.2: Spatial synchronization patterns of heavy precipitation events in Europe (SynXtreme)
  • EU Horizon 2020 International Training Network (ITN) 'CriticalEarth' (FU Berlin)

News & Media

EGU 2021 NP Division Outstanding Early Career Scientist Award

TiPES Podcasts on Amazon resilience

Brandenburg Postdoc Award 2019

Press release on our recent paper on Amazon resilience

Press release on our recent paper on extreme rainfall teleconnections

Nature Physics highlighted our recent paper on extreme rainfall teleconnections

Radio interview on the hydrological impacts of global warming (OE1 - german)

Radio interview on consequences of the Amazon forest fires (Deutschlandfunk - german)

Radio interview on the Amazon as a tipping element (Deutschlandfunk Kultur - german)