Student harnesses AI

Olivia Hedge.

Kyneton High School student Olivia Hedge has won SpaceBase Challenge 2023 for her project using satellite imagery to measure methane emissions on Earth.

Olivia led the team that claimed the $8000 NZD ($7300 AUD) prize through New Zealand organisation SpaceBase.

The challenge coincided with the launch of MethaneSAT, which is a new satellite that can scan 200km2 to detect methane emissions with accuracy.

Olivia’s project stood out for its detailed and realistic implementation roadmap, use of artificial intelligence and a well-developed prototype.

“Throughout the research incubator stage, we worked with a South Australian company ESpy Ocean, who use their AI to detect dark vessels and fish as well as predict shark behaviour,” Olivia said.

“With ESpy we developed our solution, which was to use what we know about methane-emitting wetlands to predict whether they would emit methane or not.”

Olivia said the partnership was crucial to understanding how the technology could be used.

“Often, wetlands naturally emit methane, it isn’t a sign of a wetland necessarily being unhealthy,” she said.

“We used four different types of satellite images from the satellite Sentinel-2. These were: True colour, to identify the wetlands as wetlands. NDVI, to measure the photosynthesis activity. Moisture index: to measure the level of ‘water’, really to measure how much the water was obscured by plant and algae growth, and also a custom infrared image, which indicates the presence of methane and heat.”

Olivia learnt of the challenge through a friend and they successfully applied for the research incubator together.

When her friend could no longer continue the work due to other commitments, Olivia decided to continue the project and recruited another friend Khoa Do.

Along the way, the pair also worked with Varshith Meesala who assisted with his software development skills to make the prototype a reality.

The prize will enable Olivia to save for university and potentially invest in developing their AI to a commercial stage so it can be used by environmental organisations such as Landcare to identify methane-emitting wetlands accurately.

“I am interested in taking my project further, but the support to do this wasn’t a part of the high school category prize,” she said.

“The next stage of the project would be looking at partnering with local environmental organisations to deploy on-the-ground sensors near wetlands. We need to test and expand our training data.”

Olivia said her interest in AI had grown immensely through her work and she was excited about its potential to help progress with studies of environment and medicine.

Currently in year 12 at Kyneton High School, Olivia aims to study medicine to work as a paediatrician in high-needs rural areas before going into medical research.

“AI is an incredibly exciting discipline that has already changed the world, and I want to be a part of the movement that utilises its full potential to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery, disease detection, agricultural productivity, emissions detection and environmental conservation,” she said.

“I’m really fascinated by the connection between a healthy environment, sustainable land management practices and improved public health outcomes.

“I think that AI could play a critical role in developing our understanding of how to stabilise our planet’s ecosystems, achieve sustainable farming and deliver universal healthcare. But the data has to be used responsibly and for the right reasons, and that’s the work I want to support.”