In order to see how data science can help in discovering our earth’s history, it is important to know firstly, about the Gaia Hypothesis.
What is the Gaia Hypothesis?
The Gaia hypothesis is a growing concept that may offer insights into climate change, ocean changes, habitat restoration and other ecologically (and societally) relevant concepts. It is based on the idea that the earth evolved as a “living” entity, wherein animals, plants, bacteria, and physical processes came to be together.
This conflicts with more conventional thinking which states that physical processes (atmosphere, oceans, clouds, etc…) came first, and life simply adapted to that. In short, the Gaia hypothesis suggests that all things are connected in complex, non-linear ways that are difficult to understand.
For example, in the mid-late 1900s, Dr. James Lovelock found that a sulfur chemical released from oceanic algae played a role in controlling cloud formation (and thus, global climate).
Classic Methods of Analysis in Biology
In conventional biology, analysis of datasets is usually performed by picking a few variables or factors that we believe to be important for the item we want to predict. Once this is done, the relationships between those variables are measured using simple (often linear) techniques. However, if you believe in the Gaia hypothesis, this sort of analysis does not make sense. If all things are interconnected, then it would be best to use algorithms that are complex, and can handle large numbers of interconnected factors.
Where does Data Mining Come into Play?
Data mining and machine learning techniques can help here by better quantifying these relationships. This is because data mining and machine learning techniques generally do not have any pre-conceived notions regarding relationships, meaning they may detect patterns that humans would not have perceived using other analysis methods.
In other words, data mining and machine learning can deal with complex, interrelated variables in a non-linear way, and is thus in line with the Gaia hypothesis - that everything is interconnected and non-linear.