Author:
Andres Tennus

Professor of Geoinformatics Evelyn Uuemaa speaks in her inaugural lecture about how AI can help get a better picture of the state of the environment

Evelyn Uuemaa, Professor of Geoinformatics at the University of Tartu, will deliver her inaugural lecture “Use of spatial data and artificial intelligence in environmental monitoring” in the university assembly hall on Wednesday, 13 March at 16:15. In the public lecture, the new professor will introduce her topic and field of research.

Changes in climate and land use have put our ecosystems under tremendous pressure, and the situation has deteriorated in many areas. This has led to the need for more effective monitoring of the state of the natural environment and the consequences of changes. This requires us to find rapid solutions to mitigate the situation, adapt to changes and predict future scenarios.

“The majority of research on the natural environment has so far been carried out in fieldwork settings, and the data obtained are generally considered the most accurate,” said Evelyn Uuemaa. The professor admitted, however, that fieldwork is very resource-intensive. “It is unthinkable that you could record information for every moment and each place at once in fieldwork. Remote sensing allows us to get data on each area of the world once a day or once a week. Unfortunately, such raw data are quite useless,” Uuemaa added.

The European Union, supported by the Green Deal and the Data Strategy, is committed to using geospatial data to build a digital twin of Earth under the Destination Earth initiative to model its natural and anthropogenic processes as precisely as possible. This development is supported by the Open Data Directive, which classifies spatial data as valuable data. The amount of such data has increased enormously over the last decade and more data is constantly made available from satellites, smart devices and all kinds of sensors.

High-quality spatial data are one of the main pillars of data-driven decision-making. “However, our ability to use these data and turn them into the information we need for decision-making has not kept pace with the speed at which data are generated. Artificial intelligence can be of great help, but without knowledge of the natural environment, it is also useless,” said Professor Uuemaa.

In the inaugural lecture, Uuemaa will give an overview of the potential use of spatial data and their importance in monitoring the state of the natural environment. She will discuss how artificial intelligence can add value to spatial data and how it can be applied to provide insights into environmental conditions where field data are lacking.

Evelyn Uuemaa graduated from the University of Tartu in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in geography. She also earned her master’s degree in geoinformatics and a PhD in landscape ecology and environmental protection from Tartu. In 2007, she defended her doctoral thesis, “Indicatory value of landscape metrics for river water quality and landscape pattern”. After that, she became a research fellow in geoinformatics at the University of Tartu and, in 2013, a senior research fellow. In 2015, Uuemaa received the Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship, which enabled her to complete a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand. Since 2023, she has been Professor of Geoinformatics.

Evelyn Uuemaa leads the university’s Landscape Geoinformatics workgroup, which develops machine learning methods for geospatial analysis and modelling. In 2023, she was awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) the Consolidator Grant to develop models based on remote sensing data and machine learning, which will enable farmers and policymakers to plan nature-based solutions in the landscape to mitigate the negative environmental impact of intensive agriculture. Uuemaa is also the head of the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Land Use, a board member of the Estonian Geoinformatics Society and a council member of the Association of Geographic Information Laboratories in Europe.

The inaugural lecture aims to give the new professor an opportunity to introduce herself and her field and topic of research. At the end of the public lecture, the audience can ask questions. Everyone interested is welcome. The inaugural lecture can be watched live on UTTV.

Andres Tennus

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