Four OSU Statistics graduate students placed second in the American Statistical Association’s Environmental Statistics’ section Data Challenge held in Spring 2020. Now in the second year of their Master’s programs, students Emily Palmer, Kate Pulham, Jessica Robinson, and Ericka Smith, teamed up to analyze more than 250 GB of data from three different climate ensembles covering the entirety of the continental United States.

The team of students, nicknamed “The CliMates” for their friendship and resolve to tackle the big climate data challenge together, were given the open-ended task of utilizing the data in a meaningful way to accomplish a goal of their choosing. For their entry to the competition, the team chose to build an interactive web-based dashboard which featured the data exploration tools they developed while learning about and exploring the data for themselves.

Developing the dashboard was no easy feat, as the students had to first wrangle with and understand the features of the data before building the highly interactive app. As one of the faculty mentors to the team, Assistant Professor James Molyneux put it, “When dealing with data of such immense size and complex structure, even tasks we would normally think of as being ‘simple’ represent huge obstacles to an analysis.”

The team of students faced constant challenges in the run-up to their submissions. Early on, the focus of the team was to learn about the data which required them to not only learn how to load and unpack vast amounts of data on a spatio-temporal grid, but also required them to read dense, scientific literature about the different ensemble models used to create the data. Once the COVID-19 pandemic closed the campus, the students took their collaboration online and learned how to use software collaboration tools including Git and GitHub. Eventually, the students found ways to implement the exploratory tools with minimal computational costs for their interactive dashboard which represented a huge achievement given the size of the data.

For their 2nd place finish in the competition, members of the team have been invited to present their entry at the 2021 ASA Environmental Section Workshop, being held in Provo, UT. Speaking again about the team,  James writes, “When you look at what these students accomplished, it’s clear that our students are of the highest caliber and these four students in particular have incredibly bright futures ahead of them.” 

The team was advised and mentored by the Head of the Statistics Department Lisa Ganio, Senior Instructor Charlotte Wickham, and Assistant Professor James Molyneux. You can find the student’s interactive dashboard submission here: