How Microsoft is Using AI for Sustainability

It’s no secret that the health of our planet is declining. Deforestation, melting sea ice, rapidly disappearing species and more have weakened Earth’s ecosystems, and climate change is arguably the most pressing issue of our time. Once considered the stuff of science fiction, AI is not only playing a growing role in our everyday lives, but it could be a critical tool in helping to save the planet. 

In fact, reversing what could soon be permanent damage is the impetus for Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, which awards grants to researchers and innovators dedicated to solving environmental challenges.

The five-year, $50 million program launched in 2017 and has since doled out more than 200 grants to research teams leveraging AI to monitor and manage the planet’s natural systems. With AI for Earth, researchers can take advantage of advancements in technology they otherwise might not have the means or resources to access, ultimately helping researchers maximize their potential.

AI for Earth grantees not only have access to software and research tools, but they’re also able to share research models and datasets through the Microsoft cloud and across devices, which enables collaboration with other researchers and citizen scientists to advance sustainability solutions. Here are just a few projects that have been supported by AI for Earth: 




Using satellites and AI to preserve biodiversity, protect livelihoods, and prevent slavery in the seafood industry, OceanMind works with government authorities to prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by analyzing vessel movements in real-time. AI algorithms identify suspicious behavior, which OceanMind shares with agencies to direct patrol boats more effectively.


Terrafuse uses machine learning to forecast climate-related risks. Physics-enabled AI models help everyone understand climate-related risks at the hyperlocal level. It does this by leveraging historical wildfire data, numerical simulations, and satellite imagery on Microsoft Azure to model wildfire risk for any location. Anyone can access wildfire forecast information via APIs and graphical tools.


SilviaTerra is transforming how conservationists and landowners measure and monitor forests. It’s essential for governments, and landowners to inventory forests for ecological, social, and economic health. By utilizing AI, cloud software, and machine learning these groups can work together to study the effects of climate change and improve habitats. SilviaTerra is using Microsoft Azure, high-resolution satellite imagery, and US Forest Service inventory and analysis field data to train machine-learning models to measure forests.

Wild Me

Using Wild Me, AI and scientists work together to fight animal extinction. AI for Earth is using AI technology and advanced cloud software to identify animal species that are on the verge of extinction. Wild Me uses computer vision and deep learning algorithms to power Wildbook, a platform that utilizes technology to scan and identify individual animals and species, allowing experts to collect data on which populations seem to be declining at alarming rates. 




Ag-Analytics is used to collect farmland data in the cloud and making it available to farmers to enable precision agriculture. It uses sensors to collect soil, tillage, and yield data for specific plots of farmland. The data is stored in Microsoft Azure and made available to farmers via user-friendly APIs to help them lower costs, improve yields, and minimize the environmental cost of agriculture.

Meher Bhatia