Detecting climate adaptation with mobile network data in Bangladesh: anomalies in communication, mobility and consumption patterns during cyclone Mahasen

Xin Lu, David J. Wrathall, Pål Roe Sundsøy, Md. Nadiruzzaman, Erik Wetter, Asif Iqbal, Taimur Qureshi, Andrew J. Tatem, Geoffrey S. Canright, Kenth Engø-Monsen, Linus Bengtsson
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Large-scale data from digital infrastructure, like mobile phone networks, provides rich information on the behavior of millions of people in areas affected by climate stress. Using anonymized data on mobility and calling behavior from 5.1 million Grameenphone users in Barisal Division and Chittagong District, Bangladesh, we investigate the effect of Cyclone Mahasen, which struck Barisal and Chittagong in May 2013. We characterize spatiotemporal patterns and anomalies in calling frequency, mobile recharges, and population movements before, during and after the cyclone. While it was originally anticipated that the analysis might detect mass evacuations and displacement from coastal areas in the weeks following the storm, no evidence was found to suggest any permanent changes in population distributions. We detect anomalous patterns of mobility both around the time of early warning messages and the storm’s landfall, showing where and when mobility occurred as well as its characteristics. We find that anomalous patterns of mobility and calling frequency correlate with rainfall intensity (r = .75,p < 0.05) and use calling frequency to construct a spatiotemporal distribution of cyclone impact as the storm moves across the affected region. Likewise, from mobile recharge purchases we show the spatiotemporal patterns in people’s preparation for the storm in vulnerable areas. In addition to demonstrating how anomaly detection can be useful for modeling human adaptation to climate extremes, we also identify several promising avenues for future improvement of disaster planning and response activities.