Sobey School News

Big Data, Local Effects, Public Benefits

Date Published: May 14, 2020

Dr. Yigit Aydede leads a research project that brings together data on the effects of weather, climate and local air quality, along with social mobility, to determine their effects on the transmission of COVID-19. The project was recently funded through the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition.

“The expectation is that warmer days will mean lower transmission,” noted Sobey School of Business economics professor Aydede. “The assimilation of this data is going to be one of the best policy tools in terms of understanding the risk awareness, expectations and forecasting. This project will help the government determine the possible effects of mobility restrictions.”

Dr. Aydede said the project can only be done locally. “We are not the only one. This kind of research is being done around the world. You can’t take a model from, say, Amsterdam and use it here. It has to be local.”

The study will harness techniques of machine learning and neural networks to crunch vast amounts of data, examining them for relationships. Researchers will examine high-dimensional air quality and atmospheric data localized to a street-by-street basis, alongside satellite weather data, looking at their impacts on respiratory health. It will also factor in publicly available data from Google and Apple on social mobility, including not only what the reason for mobility is (shopping or recreation, for instance), but also what type of mobility is employed: car, transit, or walking, for example. Finally, they will pull in the publicly-available 811 and COVID testing data provided by the Nova Scotia government.

The weather and air quality data are coming from several different companies, two of which are based in Boston and Israel, called ClimaCell and Breezometer respectively. The actual analysis will rely on the robust processing platforms of Google and Amazon.

The funding was part of the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Dr. Aydede is the principal investigator, and leads a collaborative team of co-investigators including Dr. Mutlu Yuksel (Dalhousie) and Dr. Daniel Silver (Acadia). The project is a partnership with MLport (a research portal on machine learning Dr. Aydede helped found), Acadia’s Institute for Data Analytics (AIDA), and Saint Mary’s University’s CLARI, the Change Lab Action Research Initiative.

The project team initially came together in 2018 to examine the data relating to chronic respiratory illness, such as asthma. When COVID-19 began infecting the Atlantic region, they recognized there would be value in pivoting to address the urgent needs brought by the pandemic. The project has received additional funding from Mitacs. Dr. Aydede notes that most of the project funding will go to support the staff required for the data analysis, including graduate students. 

The COVID-19 Health Research Coalition is dedicated to fostering a research environment that engages our academic partnerships and responds to the current needs of Nova Scotians and our health system, in addition to maintaining the expertise in innovative research, discovery science, population/social sciences, and health system improvement.


Education News Canada: Release about SMU COVID researchers

Profile on Research Nova Scotia site 

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