Protecting our oceans through the power of the cloud

97% of all water on Earth is contained in its five oceans, which cover nearly 70% of our planet’s surface. They are an immense resource, which provide a livelihood for billions and support life for all of us. But our oceans are also incredibly fragile, prone to damage from climate change and global pollution. The seriousness of this threat has been recognized by the United Nations – whose 14th Sustainable Development Goal is focused on conserving marine resources – and by global leaders meeting in Malta for the 4th annual Our Ocean conference, which aims to drive concrete commitments on reducing marine pollution, managing aquatic resources sustainably, mitigating climate change, and establishing marine sanctuaries.

While water and technology might not seem like a natural fit, there’s a role for innovative digital solutions to play in achieving all of these goals. However, such technologies are often expensive and require computational expertise that makes them less accessible for many researchers and nonprofit organizations working to protect our oceans.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce today that we are launching a dedicated “AI for Earth EU Oceans Award”, which will provide access to Azure compute resources and data science tools to EU-based research institutions that work on addressing ocean-related challenges. This commitment is part of Microsoft’s broader AI for Earth program, providing organizations working on water, agriculture, biodiversity, and climate change-related issues with grants for access to cloud computing resources, AI and data science tools and training.

Cloud-based technologies are already being used to deal with problems affecting our oceans. In the U.S. for instance, Microsoft Research has been working with the University of Washington to monitor and track the spread of ocean acidification through the LiveOcean data modelling tool. It is a system open to anyone and can be used beyond predicting ocean chemistry, for example for particle tracking after an oil spill. Now, through the AI for Earth EU Oceans Award, we hope to support new insights and solutions by making our technology available to EU organizations working to protect our oceans.

Less than a year ago, the European Commission proposed 14 actions for achieving safe, secure, clean, and sustainably managed oceans, to strengthen its decade-old commitment to ensuring action on international ocean governance. These span three priority areas: improving the international ocean governance framework; reducing pressure on oceans and seas and creating the conditions for a sustainable blue economy; and strengthening international ocean research and data. There is some fantastic research underway in all of these fields and our goal is to get cutting-edge equipment into the hands of EU-based researchers, help them achieve more, and reinforce the role of scientific facts as a basis for marine and maritime-related decision making.

Oceanographers estimate that, to date, less than 5% of the totality of the world’s oceans have been explored. It is impossible to say what these depths hold – and what new discoveries they might bring to humanity. We all have a stake in this game – and now is the time for us all to act, to prevent any further damage to this vast untapped resource. By working together, we can help keep our planet blue for generations to come.

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John Frank
Vice President for UN Affairs

John Frank is Vice President for UN Affairs at Microsoft. In this role, John and his team are focused on advancing multistakeholder solutions towards a more accessible and equitable digital environment and a healthier planet, and opportunities for computer and data sciences to help the UN and its agencies to achieve more.  The team works from New York, Geneva, and Seattle. Previously, John led Microsoft’s European government affairs teams in Brussels and European national capitals on EU issues, especially legal frameworks for cloud computing in areas such as cybersecurity, AI ethics, lawful access and privacy. From 2002 to 2015 he served as Deputy General Counsel and Chief of Staff for Microsoft President Brad Smith, based at Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington. In this role, he led the digital trust and security group, including the law enforcement and national security team, the digital crimes unit, the industry affairs group and the competition law, privacy and government contract compliance teams.  From 1996 to 2002, John led Microsoft’s legal and corporate affairs group for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, based in Paris. Prior to joining Microsoft, John practiced law in San Francisco with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. John received his AB degree from the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs and his JD from Columbia Law School.