How satellite images and AI could help Aotearoa achieve climate change targets

The coast of Aotearoa
Microsoft and Manaaki Whenua will work together to develop models. Photo credit: Getty Images

Crown Research Institute Manaaki Whenua/Landcare Research has announced a collaboration with Microsoft to better detect land use and forest cover change. 

The institute's focus is the environment, biodiversity and sustainability in Aotearoa and improved detection in the assessment of carbon stored in the country's forests could help create a more sustainable future, it said.

To do this, Microsoft's AI for Good team will work with Manaaki Whenua's Remote Sensing team to develop models and methods that can assess and monitor changes in land use and land cover at scale, using high-resolution satellite imagery including datasets from the Planetary Computer.

The Planetary Computer combines a multi-petabyte catalogue of global environmental data with an environment that allows users to answer global questions about that data and applications that put those answers in the hands of conservationists.

The new mapping approaches in New Zealand can be coupled with other carbon models to monitor changes in carbon and help policymakers, urban planners and the general community consider how the land is utilised and the impact of the country's climate change goals.

"Aotearoa New Zealand has ambitious goals to address climate change and meeting those goals will require many partnerships and collaborations," said Fiona Carswell, chief scientist of Manaaki Whenua.

"This project with Microsoft is a strong example of working together to enrich our understanding of te taiao (our environment) today and for our future."

Additional collaboration between Manaaki Whenua, Microsoft and other partners, businesses and communities will see research developed that further supports government decision-making and policies related to the care of the land and climate change.

"The data from this initiative will have practical applications related to understanding changes in carbon sequestration -  the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said Juan Lavista Ferres, chief data scientist of Microsoft's AI for Good program.

Last week Microsoft announced a partnership with TupuToa, a social enterprise focussed on growing Māori and Pacific leaders in Aotearoa, to create more diversity in the country's cybersecurity sector.

The deals will see TupuToa and the US tech giant working together to develop a cybersecurity employment program aiming to build new career pathways for that community.

TupuToa will receive "significant funding" to work alongside partners Te Pūkenga and other public and private sector organisations.