UH Hilo awarded federal monies to study climate resilience through data science

The research outcomes will help build a new data-driven knowledge economy through computer and data science that can be applied throughout Hawai‘i to areas in critical need due to climate change.

Classroom with monitors on rows of desks, and a large screen at the front for shared viewing.
Collaborative research and education lab used to support data science at UH Hilo. (Courtesy photo)

By Susan Enright.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will share in a five-year $20-million National Science Foundation grant to fund data science research on the impacts of climate change in Hawai‘i. The award is administered by the UH Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (Hawaiʻi EPSCoR) through a statewide multi-partner collaboration called Change HI.

To help the state face the critical issues brought on by climate change in Hawai‘i—resource availability, ecological sustainability, economic vitality, human health—this multidisciplinary research program will tap experts in climate and data science to deepen fundamental knowledge and develop new climate models, data products, and tools.

In addition to UH Hilo, participants in the grant are the UH System, UH Mānoa, Chaminade University, Island of Opportunity Pacific Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, Hawai‘i IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence, UH LGBTQ+ Center, UH Office of Innovation and Commercialization, Waianae Mountains Watershed Partnership, Hawai‘i State Energy Office, and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.

UH Hilo research projects

UH Hilo has several beneficiaries of this award.

Sukhwa Hong pictured
Sukhwa Hong
Travis Mandel pictured.
Travis Mandel

Computer scientist Travis Mandel and data scientist Sukhwa Hong are serving on the core data science team alongside faculty members at UH Mānoa.

“We are both involved in several different climate science projects under the award,” says Mandel. “My focus is on human-in-the-loop [artificial intelligence] to help climate scientists more efficiently place sensors, gather data from people, and annotate the data that comes in. Dr. Hong will be using natural language processing to help distill scientific documents for both scientists and the general public.” Natural language processing is technology that understands and respond to text or voice data.

Becky Ostertag pictured
Becky Ostertag
Ryan Perroy pictured
Ryan Perroy

Geographer Ryan Perroy and biologist Becky Ostertag are both helping with the ecology aspects of the project. Perroy is helping map land use and vegetation type, while Ostertag will be studying functional traits in local plant species to understand how these will be impacted by climate change.

Marine scientist John Burns, founder of UH Hilo’s Multiscale Environmental Graphical Analysis (MEGA) lab, is using his data science skills to lead the Oceansense project.

“The MEGA Lab is working to foster private public partnerships to develop innovative ocean observatory systems to track how changing climate conditions affect the health and function of marine ecosystems,” says Burns. “The EPSCoR project will support experimental engineering to create innovative systems to advance how we monitor ocean health.”

John Burns pictured
John Burns

There are a total of eight Change HI projects like this one taking place throughout the state. As a collaborative program with multiple partners inside and outside the UH System, Change HI will advance education and workforce readiness for Hawaiʻi. The research outcomes will help build a new data-driven knowledge economy through computer and data science that can be applied to areas in critical need due to climate change.

To learn more about research taking place in other Change HI projects, see the UH System News media release.


By Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories.