NUI Galway Project Wins SFI Future Innovator AI for Societal Good Challenge

Thursday, 29 July 2021

TAPAS Project team leads, Professor Charles Spillane, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway and Dr Aaron Golden
TAPAS Project team leads, Professor Charles Spillane, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway and Dr Aaron Golden, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Maths, NUI Galway, who won the SFI Future Innovator AI for Societal Good Challenge. Photo: Aengus McMahon

AI-enabled satellite remote sensing can provide solution for measuring climate change adaptation

A research project at NUI Galway has been announced today as the winner of the SFI Future Innovator Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Societal Good Challenge, for its ground-breaking AI-based satellite imagery analysis tool to measure climate change adaptation in agriculture.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, together with Minister of State for Overseas Development and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, TD announced the winning TAPAS project. The TAPAS team led by Dr Aaron Golden and Professor Charles Spillane from NUI Galway, have been awarded €1 million for their interdisciplinary project resulting in a tool capable of providing objective data on the effectiveness of agricultural interventions for climate change adaptation. 

The TAPAS project was co-funded with Irish Aid under SFI’s partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and has focused initially on test sites in Senegal that are subject to adaptation-strengthening agri-food interventions.

Adaptation to climate change in developing countries is expected to cost $140-300 billion per year by 2030, so assessing the effectiveness of resilience-strengthening interventions through the measurement, reporting and verification of climate change adaptation in the agriculture and food sectors is a critical area of development. Over 130 countries are now prioritising agricultural adaptation in their national plans to meet the necessary ambition of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Speaking today, Minister Simon Harris said: “Congratulations to the TAPAS team at NUI Galway on this fantastic achievement. Building resilience through climate change adaptation which will strengthen food security is a critical issue for governments across the world and this solution provides a way forward that will allow public and private enterprises to invest wisely by assessing effective interventions and helping to achieve the objectives set out in the national Climate Action Plan.”

Commenting on the Award, Minister of State for Overseas Development and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, TD added: “Imagine that it hasn’t rained for a year or that your crops have been scorched by the sun. That’s the reality for communities across the developing world who rely on rain-fed agriculture. Climate change threatens the ability of millions of families to provide food and earn income. I welcome the ingenuity of Dr Golden and his team at NUI Galway in developing this technology which will help communities adapt to our changing climate.”

On winning the prize Dr Aaron Golden, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Maths, NUI Galway, stated: “The TAPAS project team and I are absolutely delighted to receive this prize in recognition of the importance of the ground-breaking technology we are developing with TAPAS, which we believe has the potential to empower society across the globe to proactively reduce the impact of Climate Change, most especially those communities in the developing world whose economies are almost entirely dependent on agriculture. It has been an honour to work with such excellent collaborators at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and SFI’s unique and innovative Challenge based funding process has, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, really helped us thrive as an interdisciplinary group of scientists to bring this transformative project to reality."

The team co-lead Professor Charles Spillane, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, added: “Climate change adaptation is a critical 21st century challenge, particularly in the agriculture sector where almost 20 million (~40%) of the world’s agricultural land area is at risk of adverse effects of climate change. The current lack of a universally deployable system to measure adaptation to climate change motivated us to develop one, by combining AI with satellite remote sensing of agricultural systems. Moving forward from COP26, our TAPAS technology for measuring adaptation will inform both public and private investments to ensure that the most effective climate change adaptation interventions are deployed globally.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “Congratulations to Dr Aaron Golden, Professor Charles Spillane and Dr Andy Jarvis. This novel solution shows exactly what can be accomplished when interdisciplinary expertise comes together under a challenge-based funding structure that facilitates ideation through to invention. I am delighted for the team and look forward to following TAPAS as the impact of this solution unfolds across the globe.

“I would also like to extend my congratulations to the runners up, Professor Patricia Maguire and the AI_PREMie team, for the important work they are doing in advancing foetal health and women’s health with their state-of-the-art diagnostic application.”

As part of the SFI AI for Societal Good Challenge, a runner-up award of €500,000 was awarded to Prof Patricia Maguire, University College Dublin (UCD), and her team AI_PREMie­ in recognition of the potential impact of their AI-powered risk stratification platform for preeclampsia.

-Ends-

Keywords: Press.

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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