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Machine learning methods trained on simple models can predict critical transitions in complex natural systems
Smita Deb, Sahil Sidheekh, Christopher Clements F, , Partha Dutta S
Published in Royal Society Publishing
Volume: 9
Issue: 2
1. Sudden transitions from one stable state to a contrasting state occur in complex systems ranging from the collapse of ecological populations to climatic change, with much recent work seeking to develop methods to predict these unexpected transitions from signals in time series data. However, previously developed methods vary widely in their reliability and fail to classify whether an approaching collapse might be catastrophic (and hard to reverse) or non-catastrophic (easier to reverse) with significant implications for how such systems are managed.2. Here we develop a novel detection method, using simulated outcomes from a range of simple mathematical models with varying nonlinearity to train a deep neural network to detect critical transitions - the Early Warning Signal Network (EWSNet).3. We demonstrate that this neural network (EWSNet), trained on simulated data with minimal assumptions about the underlying structure of the system, can predict with high reliability observed real-world transitions in ecological and climatological data. Importantly, our model appears to capture latent properties in time series missed by previous warning signals approaches, allowing us to not only detect if a transition is approaching but critically whether the collapse will be catastrophic or non-catastrophic.4. The EWSNet can flag a critical transition with unprecedented accuracy, overcoming some of the major limitations of traditional methods based on phenomena such as Critical Slowing Down. These novel properties mean EWSNet has the potential to serve as a universal indicator of transitions across a broad spectrum of complex systems, without requiring information on the structure of the system being monitored. Our work highlights the practicality of deep learning for addressing further questions pertaining to ecosystem collapse and have much broader management implications.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
About the journal
PublisherRoyal Society Publishing
Open AccessNo