Iceland wins the 2nd CASSINI Hackathon with pitch from a CMM alumni

Thursday 13. January 2022 | By: Cécile Chauvat

I am from France, where I studied telecommunications engineering. I didn’t really want to pursue engineering for a living, but I finished my Master’s and I was ready to accept that that would be my career. Fortunately, I took an impulsive decision to move to Iceland for the Coastal and Marine Management program instead, and it opened doors for me I didn’t even know existed. I graduated the program in 2020, and since then I have been working as a researcher in ecology and environmental education at the Northwest Iceland Nature Research Center (Náttúrustofa Norðurlands vestra), in partnership with the Icelandic Seal Center. Now I work close to nature, and I get to participate in projects that really matter to me - like this one.

In November 2021, my friend Marco Pizzolato invited me to participate in the national round of the CASSINI Hackathon. The goal was to use space data from EU satellites to tackle Arctic challenges such as safe passage at sea, protecting life on land, and the conservation of Arctic wildlife. I accepted, thinking that this was a perfect occasion to learn, to make my organization more well-known, and to network with other young scientists and environmentalists in Iceland. Our team was formed, including Roman Pechenkin (software development), Christina Rodriguez (research and business), Marco Pizzolato (GIS), Sandra Rós Hrefnu Jónsdóttir (backend development), Filomena Cerniute (frontend development), and myself (communication and research). We decided to focus on the theme of life on land, and with advice from the Soil Erosion Service of Iceland (Landgræðslan), we proposed a method for remotely mapping erosion risk in Iceland. Soil erosion can happen very fast here, and it is being accelerated by climate change and other human impacts. As Icelandic soils are extremely rich in carbon, erosion is a huge source of greenhouse gases, but it can be slowed by immediate action such as revegetation. To do this, we need to know where erosion is most likely to happen before it is too late. A remote erosion assessment method could reduce the costs of slow, tedious field-based measurements that are limited by seasons and weather.

Against all our expectations, our team convinced the judges during the first competition round, becoming the winning Icelandic team. We won 5000€ from Startup Iceland, and moved on to the international round, where the top teams from all ten participating countries explained their idea to a panel of judges. To add to the pressure, I was designated as the spokesperson for our team, and delivered our pitch in front of the judges and the other teams (you can watch our pitch here). We couldn’t believe it when we won this round as well, giving us access to six month of mentoring from experts in space business. You can watch the pitch here:

Although this was supposed to be a one-weekend project, we couldn’t deny that our idea now needed to be developed further. We called our team Fléttan (“The Lichen” in Icelandic), after the first photosynthesizing organism to grow on severely eroded soils. The next step for Fléttan is our participation in the Cassini mentoring program, and we are also partnering further with Landgræðslan to continue developing our project.