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Cattau and team win environmental data science ‘hackathon’ event

Megan Cattau, an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Science’s Human-Environmeent Systems program, was a member of the team that won the first “hackathon” hosted by the Environmental Data Science Innovation and Inclusion Lab, a National Science Foundation-funded data synthesis center. The event, called “Environmental MosAIc,” took place virtually in November 2023.

Participants in the hackathon formed teams and, over the course of three days, developed scientific questions of societal relevance and executed preliminary analyses using artificial intelligence approaches, a curated environmental data library and cyberinfrastructure. On the final day, the teams pitched their ideas to a panel of experts from NSF, North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, academics and other community partners. Cattau’s winning team pitched a project called “Biodiversity and ecosystem function: Predicting resistance to wildfire from spectral diversity.”

Biological diversity has long been posited as critical to maintaining ecosystem function. However, given the intensive nature of field sampling, researchers are limited in measuring taxonomic diversity and ecosystem function from the ground across large spatial scales. The team explored how data derived from satellites can allow for analyses that yield generalizable results about the biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship. Specifically, they will evaluate the influence of spectral variability on resistance to wildfire. This workflow has the potential to revolutionize the capacity to evaluate variables representing biological diversity at scale for near real-time forecasting and prediction of ecosystem function.

The team’s winning proposal received an award that will enable them to complete their project.