One of the biggest mysteries among people working on salmon recovery in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea is what happens to juvenile fish once they head for the ocean. Survival rates of Chinook, Coho and Steelhead have all declined since the 1980s, but resource managers don’t know why.
A new grant from Microsoft is using artificial intelligence to greatly improve the computer models used to tackle the question.
A collaborative effort called the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has been around for nearly a decade. It unites the work of 60 different scientific and non-profit entities, all trying to understand what is preventing salmon and steelhead from coming home. They already use sophisticated computer models to compile field data and answer some questions.
“Like how do short and long-term changes in like circulation, water chemistry — how do they affect salmon and other relevant species in Puget Sound,” explains Hem Nalini Morzaria-Luna, an ecosystem modeler with the non-profit Long Live the Kings.
Morzaria-Luna, who works with field data from all over the region, says the recent grant from Microsoft has vastly improved the speed and capability of their modeling. Using artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning, they can dig in to much more complicated questions, for example comparing hundreds of slightly different answers to one question about available food and its effects on survival rates.
“Like, what happens if instead of 70 percent herring and 30 percent other species, what happens if that is 60 percent or 65 percent or 85 percent? It seems like a trivial question, but it actually in the end has important management implications. And before, we haven’t been able to ask those questions,” she says.
She says the relatively small grant from Microsoft (it’s valued at about $10,000 for software, in kind) has the potential to improve not just the Puget Sound model, but several others on a widely-used platform from Australia, called Atlantis.
At first thought, it might seem odd that organisms as delicate as endangered salmon and other marine species could be helped with the slick technology tools that enable modern life.
But Long Live the Kings Deputy Director Michael Schmidt says Microsoft Azure and the cloud-computing and artificial intelligence it enables is just what the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project needs, to propel research that can inform ecosystem management and policy decisions.
“Machine learning is often applied to areas where you have lots of uncertainty, where there is lots of unknown and where you’re trying to process a lot of information,” Schmidt says.
Long Live the Kings has been awarded a grant from Microsoft as part of its ‘AI for Earth’ program. The grant will be used to power an intensive ecosystem model of Puget Sound.
AI for Earth is a Microsoft program aimed at empowering people and organizations to solve global environmental challenges by increasing access to AI tools and educational opportunities, while accelerating innovation, via the Azure for Research AI for Earth award program, Microsoft provides selected researchers and organizations access to its cloud and AI computing resources to accelerate, improve and expand work on climate change, agriculture, biodiversity and/or water challenges.
Long Live the Kings, a nonprofit with over 30 years of experience recovering wild salmon and steelhead and supporting sustainable fisheries, is among the first grant recipients of AI for Earth, which was first launched in July 2017. The grant process was a competitive and selective process and was awarded in recognition of the potential of the work and power of AI to accelerate progress.
“Microsoft’s Azure platform gives us the capacity, power and speed to rapidly assess impacts to our Puget Sound food web that may ultimately be affecting the salmon we care so much about,” said Long Live the Kings Deputy Director, Michael Schmidt.
The ecological model Azure supports is part of the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, a 60 entity, $20 million effort to determine why juvenile salmon are dying in our combine marine waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia. Bolstering marine ecosystem modeling with Azure cloud computing will provide natural resource mangers the opportunity to understand how changes to our ecosystem (pollution, warming waters, etc.) will affect salmon and other key Puget Sound species, such as killer whales and shellfish.
To date, Microsoft has distributed more than 35 grants to qualifying researchers and organizations around the world. Microsoft recently announced their intent to put $50 million over 5 years into the program, enabling grant-making and educational trainings possible at a much larger scale.
More information can be found on these websites:
AI for Earth: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/aiforearth
Long Live the Kings: https://lltk.org/
The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project: https://marinesurvivalproject.com/