Ankur Desai

Credentials: Professor, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Faculty Affiliate, Nelson Institute for Environmental Sciences and Center for Climactic Research

Position title: Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences


Ankur Desai uses data science to understand how the surface of the Earth influences, and is influenced by, weather and climate. He studies these effects over time and at different scales—from an individual leaf to the entire atmosphere—to create a picture of how the environment is responding to climate change.

In collaboration with researchers across the globe, the Desai Lab measures how the land and atmosphere exchange heat, water, and carbon using a network of sensors and towers that sample the air and soil, ten to twenty times per second. Ankur uses a variety of data science tools to benchmark and run models with this enormous amount of disparate data. He shares this data freely, as he believes that collaborative approaches to science and open data policies are central to solving global challenges like climate change.

The Desai Lab prioritizes the Wisconsin Idea through outreach to schools and community groups. By connecting people to environmental data collected near the places they live and work, the lab helps the public understand the stories behind the numbers.

“The challenge in earth systems is less about the volume of data and more about the veracity and heterogeneity in data. Data about the diameter of trees taken by individuals in forests is as important as data about the greenness of that forest taken by a satellite. Data science tools help multiple people make sense of this data.”