AI for Earth

I’m delighted to report that I have been awarded a Microsoft and National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant!

With over a billion people relying on glaciers for freshwater for drinking, irrigating crops and hydropower, and Arctic ice dynamics influencing global weather and exacerbating natural hazards over major population centres, melting glaciers affect us all. By feeding back into climate change, glacier loss amplifies an existential threat to humankind.

Despite this, we still have a relatively crude understanding of the complex processes driving glaciers to melt, and how this varies over space and time. I think it’s strange and problematic that we have far less understanding of ice than we do for snow. This knowledge dark spot imposes a severe limit on our ability to manage and mitigate glacier loss. Thankfully, the technology now exists to address this problem, but we are overdue in applying it.

In this new project I’ll develop algorithms that will look at aerial images and learn how to translate them into useful maps that show where various processes are occurring on the ice surface. Doing this regularly will allow us to see how glaciers are changing over time, capturing not only how much darkening and melting occurs, but what processes are causing it. Using Microsoft’s cloud computing platform will enable me to do this at scale, aiming to apply the algorithms to wide areas of the cryosphere and really monitor how Earth’s ice surfaces are changing in our overheated world.

Partnerships with large organisations like Microsoft are critical, and so is engaging new young thinkers, many of whom are “digital natives” who will eventually lead the fight against climate change and other giant issues.

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