Earthformer: Exploring Space-Time Transformers for Earth System Forecasting

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Zhihan Gao, Xingjian Shi, Hao Wang, Yi Zhu, Yuyang (Bernie) Wang, Mu Li, Dit-Yan Yeung


Conventionally, Earth system (e.g., weather and climate) forecasting relies on numerical simulation with complex physical models and hence is both expensive in computation and demanding on domain expertise. With the explosive growth of spatiotemporal Earth observation data in the past decade, data-driven models that apply Deep Learning (DL) are demonstrating impressive potential for various Earth system forecasting tasks. The Transformer as an emerging DL architecture, despite its broad success in other domains, has limited adoption in this area. In this paper, we propose Earthformer, a space-time Transformer for Earth system forecasting. Earthformer is based on a generic, flexible and efficient space-time attention block, named Cuboid Attention. The idea is to decompose the data into cuboids and apply cuboid-level self-attention in parallel. These cuboids are further connected with a collection of global vectors. We conduct experiments on the MovingMNIST dataset and a newly proposed chaotic $N$-body MNIST dataset to verify the effectiveness of cuboid attention and figure out the best design of Earthformer. Experiments on two real-world benchmarks about precipitation nowcasting and El NiƱo/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecasting show that Earthformer achieves state-of-the-art performance.