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Microsoft/National Geographic Grant Will Advance Penguin Colony Location Research

Heather Lynch
Lynch fieldshot internet 1
Caption: Stony Brook University Associate Professor Heather J. Lynch poses in front of a group of emperor penguins at Snow Hill Island, Antarctica.

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK, December 14, 2018 — Stony Brook University Associate Professor Heather J. Lynch is a recipient of a Microsoft/National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant, devised to advance the uses of artificial intelligence in scientific exploration and research on critical environmental challenges.

Lynch, a quantitative ecologist and associate professor in the department of Ecology and Evolution in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook, submitted a project that will couple AI with predictive-population modeling for real-time tracking of Antarctic penguin populations using satellite imagery. Through the grant, Lynch and Dimitris Samaras, an associate professor of Applied Sciences in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook will receive approximately $96,000 in direct support and about $75,000 in computing support.

“Penguin populations are tricky to track,” said Lynch. “Their remote habitat presents difficulties for both collecting and processing data, and identifying their colonies often means looking for hard-to-find markers, like guano stains against a similarly colored rock.”

Lynch proposes that AI can be used to improve, if not solve, both data challenges. With the grant funds, Lynch will use computer vision to find guano stains in satellite images. This will help inform and develop classification algorithms to generate population estimates for penguin colonies.

“With this penguin project, we have one of the first real examples where we can automatically get and process satellite imagery, generate population estimates and deliver that information through decision support tools — making it as readily available as a weather forecast,” Lynch said.

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Stony Brook University, widely regarded as a SUNY flagship, is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with nearly 26,000 students and more than 2,700 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S.News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University fuels Long Island’s economic growth. Its impact on the  Long Island economy amounts to $7.38 billion in increased output. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

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