UW School of Oceanography Professor LuAnne Thompson and graduate student Hillary Scannell are conducting one of five projects from around the world to receive the Microsoft-Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) Innovation grant this month for their proposal to use artificial intelligence to better understand the planet and solve pressing environmental issues. The grants will support a range of projects, spanning the cutting-edge use of technology to monitor human-wildlife conflict in Tanzania to tracking dangerous marine heatwaves and predicting drinking water shortages in underserved communities.

The AI for Earth Innovation grants program supports applicants in creating and implementing open-source machine-learning models, algorithms and datasets that directly tackle environmental challenges the world faces today in the areas of biodiversity loss, climate change, and water security.

Thompson, Scannell and collaborators will track and predict marine heatwaves. As the planet’s climate continues to warm, the ocean is absorbing and storing excess heat, resulting in extreme events called marine heatwaves that cause coral bleaching, fish population decline and the mortality of marine life. This project will use AI to track marine heatwaves and aid scientists in better understanding their impacts and, ultimately, develop methods to predict how heatwaves will evolve, informing disaster and emergency responders who can help mitigate the effects of future events.

Of the 135 applications submitted, LDF and Microsoft chose five projects that markedly demonstrate work that will lead to the implementation of innovative AI models that address critical environmental issues, can rapidly scale and will create lasting impact beyond the grant period. Proposals could request up to $100,000 for support over one year. This year’s winners will receive a total of nearly $450,000 to implement their solutions.

Read the GWC press release »