Thursday. We're zooming toward the long weekend with 1,309 words, 5 minutes.

🎧 This week in 1990, Mazzy Star released their debut album "She Hangs Brightly," which provides today's ethereally beautiful intro tune...

1 big thing: Exclusive: Tuvalu taps AI firm to fortify weather defense

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is teaming up with a new player in weather forecasting to better prepare for extreme weather events.

Why it matters: Tuvalu is highly vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise. More accurate forecasts could save infrastructure and lives in Tuvalu and countries like it, which are being swallowed by rising seas.

Zoom in: Atmo is a San Francisco-based AI weather forecasting firm whose models are trained on historical weather conditions. It can be run far faster and on cheaper machines than the supercomputers used by the National Weather Service and other agencies that help predict the weather.

  • Right now, there's a dearth of weather observations and relatively poor performance by U.S., European and other global weather models at the local level in the South Pacific.
  • It means that the residents of Tuvalu are often caught off guard by storms Atmo CEO Alex Levy tells Axios in an interview.
  • Given how low-lying the country is — the average height above sea level is less than 10 feet — these storms can cause extensive flooding.

Between the lines: The partnership is unique, bringing together a next-generation private sector weather company and one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet to address the ravages of climate change.

The intrigue: AI meteorology is fundamentally changing the game, Levy said, since forecasting models can now be highly focused on particular needs or meteorological hazards.

Yes, but: There are fundamental questions facing AI forecasting companies such as Atmo, mainly revolving around their ability to foresee unprecedented events, since their models are trained on historical observations and outcomes.

What they're saying: "Innovation and technology to address the adverse impacts of climate change should not be limited to the richest," Kamal Amakrane, president of the Global Centre for Climate Mobility and the climate envoy of the president of the UN General Assembly, tells Axios in an interview.

Go deeper

2. Carbon removal merger could preview more tie-ups

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Zero Carbon Systems just acquired Global Thermostat, a potential preview of more mergers in the young direct air capture industry.

Why it matters: There are now over 170 startups and growing by one tally. But the tech synergies and capital needed for commercial scale could bring new tie-ups — even as more companies keep arriving.

Driving the news: Zero Carbon's CEO David Elenowitz tells Axios Pro's Alan Neuhauser it acquired Global Thermostat last month for "tens of millions of dollars" in cash and equity.

The big picture: Giana Amador, executive director of the Carbon Removal Alliance, notes many startups have spun out of universities or national labs, run by tech experts adept at proving capture methods.

  • "As projects scale to tens of thousands and then millions of tons of CO2, these companies will need an entirely new set of expertise — for example, around project development and storage," she said via email.
  • "That means we will continue to see companies turn to mergers, acquisitions, or other forms of partnerships to scale."

What we're watching: Whether giant energy companies get involved.

  • There's one big example: Occidental Petroleum last year bought Carbon Engineering for $1.1 billion.

The bottom line: As the industry keeps growing, rare dealmaking to date could become more common.

3. Mapped: Comparing global coral bleaching events

Map showing coral bleaching alert areas during the two worst events on record, from 2014-2017 and the ongoing event. Image: NOAA Coral Reef Watch

The ongoing global coral bleaching event is the most extensive yet observed, with marine heat waves underway globally.

Why it matters: Corals are vital nurseries to fish species and cradles of biodiversity. Bleached corals are more susceptible to illness or even death.

By the numbers: About 63% of the world's coral reefs are suffering from bleaching that began last year and is showing no signs of stopping.

  • That's nearing the record of nearly 66%, seen in 2017, according to Derek Manzello, who heads up NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program.
  • The involvement of the Atlantic Ocean this time is particularly striking.

4. How Democrats could escalate oil investigations

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Senior Capitol Hill Democrats are opening one new investigation of oil companies while urging the Justice Department to launch another.

Why it matters: The moves were heavy on public messaging but might also bring more aggressive probes of the industry during an era of consolidation and elevated oil prices.

Driving the news: Senate Budget Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse formally asked DOJ to look into decades of alleged deception and disinformation on climate by oil giants to see if laws were broken.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight panel, joined the request that's based on a long investigation by both committees.

Meanwhile, House energy committee ranking member Frank Pallone asked seven firms, including Chevron and BP America, about potential contacts with OPEC+ and other U.S. producers.

  • He cited the Federal Trade Commission's recent claim that former Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield years ago engaged in "collusive activity" on production with OPEC+ reps that could raise prices.

The other side: Pioneer, which was just acquired by Exxon, has denied the claims. Similarly, Exxon has called the FTC allegations about Sheffield "entirely inconsistent" with its practices.

  • Turning back to the Whitehouse-Raskin DOJ request: the American Petroleum Institute — which is name-checked in the referral — called it an "unfounded political charade."
  • "U.S. energy workers are focused on delivering the reliable, affordable oil and natural gas Americans demand, and any suggestion to the contrary is false," API spokesperson Andrea Woods said.

The intrigue: House Democrats' oversight powers are very limited, but Pallone and Raskin could dig deeper if Dems re-take the chamber.

  • DOJ, meanwhile, did not comment.

Share this story

5. Bonus: Exxon's case against activist investor moves ahead

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

➡️ A federal judge is allowing Exxon's case against activist shareholders to proceed.

Why it matters: The lawsuit could create new barriers to advocacy resolutions on climate change and more.

State of play: Judge Mark Pittman rejected Arjuna Capital's bid to dismiss the case over the since-withdrawn resolution seeking far tougher climate targets.

  • But his order yesterday ends the action against co-defendant Follow This, citing lack of jurisdiction over Dutch activists.
  • He also moved to transfer the case from the Northern District of Texas' Forth Worth branch to another state venue.

The big picture: Exxon claims the current SEC process fails to ensure companies can exclude resolutions that aren't aimed at boosting shareholder value.

  • It calls the resolution part of an "extreme" anti-fossil fuel agenda that would harm the company's business.

The other side: Critics of Exxon's push, including pension giant CalPERS, say it could chill advocacy and accuse Exxon of bullying activists.

Judge's order...Reuters coverage

6. U.S. braces for NOAA hurricane outlook

A map of the Atlantic ocean showing sea surface temperature anomalies as of May 7-21, 2024
Data: NOAA; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The official forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season comes out this morning, and it's unlikely to comfort coastal residents.

Why it matters: The hurricane outlook is a useful reminder for people to prepare for major storms and kicks government agencies into gear to coordinate their plans and assets.

  • It does not, however, shed light on where such storms will hit.
  • If it hews closely to private company and academic forecasts so far, it is highly likely the NOAA forecast will reveal an unusually active season ahead.

Zoom in: There are record (or near-record) ocean temperatures throughout the North Atlantic Ocean Basin, and forecasts call for a transition from an El Niño to a La Niña event in the equatorial tropical Pacific Ocean.

  • The only questions are how active a season NOAA's forecast will project.

What they're saying: "Whether hurricane season lives up to this year's hype is to be seen, but with 90% of the tropical belt immersed in record or near record warm waters, the Atlantic powder keg awaits its first spark," wrote Michael Lowry, a hurricane specialist and storm surge expert at WPLG Local 10 in Miami.

7. 📊 Number of the day: -25% or so

That's the downward revision in BloombergNEF's long-term hydrogen demand level, in their latest "net zero" scenario (h/t Semafor and others).

Why it matters: While hydrogen demand would still soar compared with current levels, their latest study is more bearish on the fuel's future in buildings and power, Semafor notes.

Catch up quick: We covered other big findings from the study in Tuesday's newsletter.

📧 Did a friend send you this newsletter? Welcome, please sign up.

🎊 Thanks to Chris Speckhard and Javier E. David for edits to today's edition, along with the brilliant Axios Visuals team.