Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science
A color photo showing a tree canopy with a face overlaying the image with the letter "AI" to the right


AI-CLIMATE institute aims to curb emissions, boost economy

May 4, 2023

By Tom Fleischman, Cornell Chronicle

Cornell is one of six universities receiving a total of $20 million over five years from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to form an institute aiming to create more climate-smart practices that will curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while boosting the economy in the agriculture and forestry industries.

The AI Institute for Climate-Land Interactions, Mitigation, Adaptation, Tradeoffs and Economy (AI-CLIMATE) – to be led by the University of Minnesota, with Shashi Shekhar, professor of computer science and engineering, serving as principal investigator (PI) – is one of seven new NSF- and USDA-NIFA-funded AI Institutes announced May 4. The institute is part of a larger federal initiative, totaling nearly $500 million, to bolster collaborative AI research across the country.

Of the $20 million in grants over five years, Cornell will be receiving $6 million – with $3.5 million going to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and $2.5 million going to the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science (Cornell Bowers CIS).

In addition to Cornell and Minnesota, AI-CLIMATE institutions include Colorado State University, Delaware State University, North Carolina State University and Purdue University.

AI-CLIMATE’S co-PIs from Cornell will be Johannes Lehmann, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (CALS) and co-director of the institute (with Shekhar and forestry expert Keith Paustian of Colorado State); and Carla P. Gomes, the Ronald and Antonia Nielsen Professor of Computing and Information Science (Cornell Bowers CIS).

A total of 15 Cornell researchers are inaugural members of AI-CLIMATE; the hope is to expand the institute, with Cornell researchers joining planned efforts and initiating new ones.

A public introduction and invitation to the institute is scheduled for May 8, noon to 1 p.m., in G01 Biotechnology Building. Lehmann, Gomes and Shekhar will invite the Cornell community to help shape the institute and its plans for the next five years and beyond. The seminar will also be available on Zoom; registration is required.

Lehmann, whose research focuses on soil biogeochemistry and soil fertility management, said the institute should serve as a hub for discovery by a wide range of researchers.

“Computer scientists and engineers should talk with soil scientists and earth scientists and plant scientists,” he said. “And we should talk with farmers and industry and policymakers. That’s a tall order, because we all speak different languages, so I think the most exciting task will be to develop a common understanding, a common language, common goals, and align our ways of working.”

Lehmann, a recent electee into the National Academy of Sciences, hopes the institute will spawn a new way of thinking about and researching climate issues – “a community of practice that goes beyond academia … and that will do business differently for having been part of this institute.”

Gomes, who pioneered the field of computational sustainability and co-directs the Cornell AI for Science Institute, said AI can be an integral part of solving the climate crisis.

This story was originally published in the Cornell Chronicle.