UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £117 million to set up a network of new centres across the country to train the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers. 

One of the 12 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) will be based at the University of Oxford and involve several partners from industry and the research community including the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). Over the next eight years, The Intelligent Earth Centre will train 100 PhD students to develop and apply AI to tackle environmental crises from climate change and biodiversity loss, to pollution and clean energy.

Such applications of AI could include next-generation climate models that run at a fraction of the computational cost and carbon footprint, automated tracking of biodiversity loss and unregulated pollution sources from space, or rapid alert systems for environmental disasters. AI may also generate better and earlier warning systems for any approaching extreme events.

UKCEH will identify key gaps in understanding of the climate system where AI methods are expected to help, and this will be translated into new PhD projects. 

Climate modeller Dr Chris Huntingford, who will provide expertise on the application of AI techniques to issues of climate science, says: “The remarkable breakthroughs in AI can potentially revolutionise research and provide novel solutions to address predicting future environmental change and any related risks. However, environmental scientists often lack expertise in data science methods, limiting their ability to use AI, including machine learning tools, while data scientists typically do not have specific knowledge in environmental sciences.

“The Intelligent Earth Centre will address this significant skills gap and enable the UK to seize the opportunities that AI offers.”

The centre will be open to environmental scientists as well as those from computer science, data science, mathematics, statistics or physics backgrounds who have a keen interest in the environment. The first PhD positions will start in September 2024 and applications will open on The Intelligent Earth website shortly.

My background is as a mathematician, with an MA in Mathematics (Cambridge), and MSc in Mathematical Modelling and Numerical Analysis (Oxford) followed by the DPhil in Fluid Dynamics (Oxford). I then joined CEH in 1993, and have worked here ever since, along with maintaining on-going visiting scientist status at the AOPP and OUCE departments of Oxford University.