As our planet’s biodiversity is increasingly threatened, it is more important than ever to have a sustained and integrated way to assess biodiversity and enable informed decision-making in global conservation efforts.

Compelled by the role technology can play in this effort, Microsoft has announced they are building a Planetary Computer that will provide access to the world’s critical environmental datasets, and a computing platform to analyse those datasets on.

As one part of this initiative, Microsoft’s AI for Earth program and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) Secretariat are launching a new US$1 million grant program. Grants of US$500k in financial funding and US$500k in Microsoft Azure credits, will support projects that strengthen efforts to monitor Earth’s biodiversity and create Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) and relevant biodiversity change indicators derived from the EBVs. We will consider projects that develop novel approaches to monitoring of biodiversity as well as projects that leverage cloud-scale computation to increase the geographical and temporal coverage of existing monitoring programs.

Each grant recipient will receive:
  • Up to US$100k in financial funding for up to one year
  • Up to US$100k in Azure credits for up to three years
  • Support resources through the AI for Earth grants program, including technical advice and online Azure training materials
  • New: Esri software, data, and training to extend the creation, analysis, and open sharing of spatial data
  • Applicants must be either individual members or partner organizations of GEO BON. We particularly encourage applications from locally based organizations in geographic areas where biodiversity observations are currently underrepresented.
  • Projects must be developed and deployed on the Azure cloud for the duration of the grant support.
  • All data, software and products as a result of this Call shall be made available to the GEO community following the principles and procedures stated in Section 3.4 (Ethical Standards and Intellectual Property) of the GEO Rules of Procedure.
  • May 5, 2020: Grant application opens
  • 11:59PM Pacific Standard Time, June 5, 2020: Grant application deadline
  • June 30, 2020: Grant recipients notified
Application Instructions

Please refer to this template for more detailed application instructions. Email completed application to with the subject “EBVs on the cloud application”. Each Principal Investigator can submit one application for consideration.

Selection Criteria

Projects will be selected by a panel of judges identified by the GEO BON Secretariat and Microsoft AI for Earth. Criteria for selection will include:

  • Tangible data products and cloud-based workflows and tools that demonstrate the power of Essential Biodiversity Variables to increase the relevance of biodiversity monitoring for policy support and management thereby contributing to the GEO BON Implementation Plan and GEO Work Programme.
  • Potential for project deliverables to scale and be used by other GEO BON members and organizations.
  • Degree to which the proposed project leverages Azure capabilities and represents technological innovation.
  • Appropriateness of the strategy for the sharing of project outputs via the EBV portal, BON in a Box and/or GEO Knowledge Hub.
  • Appropriateness of team members’ skill sets for completing project.
Project Delivery

To kick off their projects, grant recipients will be invited to attend the GEO BON Open Science Conference 2020. Grantees are encouraged to continue to be active in the GEO BON and GEO communities and present their results at the GEO BON All Hands meetings, workshops and other GEO BON and GEO events. Grantees can also be invited to participate in Microsoft events and presentations as appropriate.

Grantees will deliver a mid-year report, and a final report one year from the starting date of the project. They will continue to have access to their sponsored Azure accounts for two additional years to scale their datasets, data products, and tools more broadly.

Grantees will retain all intellectual property for the products developed over the course of the project. The project outputs, whether datasets, software, algorithms or other, must be made publicly and freely available following the GEOSS Data Sharing Principles. When applicable, products should be also made available through the EBV Data Portal and Bon in a Box following the GEO BON conventions.

Project development, execution, and results will be monitored by the GEO BON Secretariat, in collaboration with Microsoft.

Grantees will sign a contract with GEO for the disbursement of the project money and are responsible for allocating and justifying expenses following the budget of the approved project.

More about Azure

Microsoft Azure is a complete cloud platform with an ever-expanding set of services and storage. It allows users to build, manage, an deploy applications on a massive global network while using familiar tools and frameworks.

Azure functionality that may be particularly useful for biodiversity researchers include:

  • Key geospatial and conservation datasets. Microsoft is making additional geospatial datasets available on Azure and accessible through Esri tools later this year
  • Geo AI Data Science Virtual Machine (DSVM), which integrates Esri ArcGIS Pro into the Microsoft DVSM on Azure. ArcGIS Pro licenses will also be provided as described below.
  • Support of multiple programming languages, including R
  • Open source APIs on land cover mapping, species classification, and camera trap image processing
Additional Esri Offering

Esri will provide grant awardee teams additional software to enhance and further enrich their projects with technical capabilities that enable creation, analysis, and sharing of open spatial data. The Esri grant is for the 3 year term of the Microsoft grant program. Each project team will receive:

  • licenses of ArcGIS Pro Advanced, Image Analyst, Spatial Analyst, and 10 other data processing, analysis extensions.
  • logins for ArcGIS Online to enable open sharing of project result data as web services, as well as creation and hosting of custom web applications, configurable dashboards and StoryMaps.
  • Unlimited access to Esri’s online training resources, plus custom webinars on using ArcGIS Pro in the GeoAI DSVM.
More about the Group on Earth Observations

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is an intergovernmental working to improve the availability, access and use of open Earth observations to impact policy and decision making. GEO connects government institutions, academic and research institutions, non-governmental and civil society organisations and the commercial sector working together on Earth observations. This unprecedented global collaboration of experts helps identify gaps and reduce duplication in the areas of sustainable development and sound environmental management based on open and shared Earth observations data and knowledge.