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Workshop: NeurIPS 2023 Workshop on Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning: Blending New and Existing Knowledge Systems

Proposal - India Sand Watch: Leveraging Earth Observation Foundation Models to Inform Sustainable Development

Suraj R. Nair · Ando Shah · Tom Boehnel


As the major ingredient of concrete and asphalt, sand is vital to economic growth, and will play a key role in aiding the transition to a low carbon society. However, excessive and unregulated sand mining in the Global South has high socio-economic and environmental costs, and amplifies the effects of climate change. Sand mines are characterized by informality and high temporal variability, and data on the location and extent of these mines tends to be sparse. We propose to build custom sand-mine detection tools by fine-tuning foundation models for earth observation, which leverage self supervised learning - a cost-effective and powerful approach in sparse data regimes. These tools allow for real-time monitoring of sand mining activity and can enable more effective policy and regulation.

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