Gathering of the UK Remote Sensing Clans

RSPSOC

The Remote Sensing & Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc) 2016 Annual Conference is taking place this week, hosted by the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Society. Two Pixalytics staff, Dr Sam Lavender and Dr Louisa Reynolds, left Plymouth on a cold wet day on Monday, and arrived in the Nottinghamshire sunshine as befits RSPSoc week. The conference runs for three days and gives an opportunity to hear about new developments and research within remote sensing. Both Sam and Louisa are giving presentations this year.

Tuesday morning began with the opening keynote presentation given by Stephen Coulson of the European Space Agency (ESA), which discussed their comprehensive programme including the Copernicus and Earth Explorer missions. The Copernicus missions are generating ten times more data than similar previous missions, which presents logistical, processing and storage challenges for users. The future vision is to bring the user to the data, rather than the other way around. However, the benefits of cloud computing are still to be fully understood and ESA are interested in hearing about applications that couldn’t be produced with the IT technology we had 5 years ago.

After coffee Sam chaired the commercial session titled ‘The challenges (and rewards) of converting scientific research into commercial products.’ It started with three short viewpoint presentations from Jonathan Shears (Telespazio VEGA UK), Dr Sarah Johnson (University of Leicester) and Mark Jarman (Satellite Applications Catapult), and then moved into an interactive debate. It was great to see good attendance and a lively discussion ensued. Sam is planning to produce a white paper, with colleagues, based on the session. Some of the key points included:

  • Informative websites so people know what you do
  • Working with enthusiastic individuals as they will make sure something happens, and
  • To have a strong commercial business case alongside technical feasibility.
Dr Louisa Reynolds, Pixalytics Ltd, giving a presentation at RSPSoc 2016

Dr Louisa Reynolds, Pixalytics Ltd, giving a presentation at RSPSoc 2016

Louisa presented on Tuesday afternoon within the Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction session. Her presentation was ‘A semi-automated flood mapping procedure using statistical SAR backscatter analysis’ which summarised the work Pixalytics has been doing over the last year on flood mapping which was funded by the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP). Louisa was the third presenter who showed Sentinel-1 flood maps of York, and so it was a popular topic!

Alongside Louisa’s presentation, there have some fascinating other talks on topics as varied as:

  • Detecting and monitoring artisanal oil refining in the Niger Delta
  • Night time lidar reading of long-eroded gravestones
  • Photogrammatic maps of ancient water management features in Al-Jufra, Libya.
  • Seismic risk in Crete; and
  • Activities of Map Action

Although for Louisa her favourite part so far was watching a video of the launch of Sentinel 1A, through the Soyuz VS07 rocket’s discarding and deployment stages, simultaneously filmed from the craft and from the ground.

Just so you don’t think the whole event is about remote sensing, the conference also has a thriving social scene. On Monday there was a tour of The City Ground, legendary home of Nottingham Forest, by John McGovern who captained Forest to successive European Cup’s in 1979 and 1980. It was a great event and it was fascinating to hear about the irascible leadership style of Brian Clough. Tuesday’s event was a tour round the spooky Galleries of Justice Museum.

The society’s Annual General Meeting takes place on Wednesday morning; Sam’s presentation, ‘Monitoring Land Cover Dynamics: Bringing together Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 data’, is in the Land Use/Land Cover Mapping session which follows.

The start of RSPSoc has been great as usual, offering chances to catch up with old remote sensing friends and meet some new ones. We are looking forward to rest of the conference and 2017!

The Road To Success….

Danube river crossing The Great Romanian Flood Plain. Image acquired by Sentinel-2A on the 3rd December 2015. Data courtesy of ESA.

Danube river crossing The Great Romanian Flood Plain. Image acquired by Sentinel-2A on the 3rd December 2015. Data courtesy of ESA.

‘On the road, you will face many stumbling blocks, twists, and turns… You may never know how far the road will take you.’ **

In my case, the road brought me to Plymouth, a city on the south coast of Devon, England, a magical place with great history and outstanding views.

What I am doing here? Well, I am pursuing my dream of becoming a GIS and Remote Sensing Specialist by doing an internship through the Erasmus + programme at a local company called Pixalytics. My mentor is Dr. Samantha Lavender, is a great professional with vast experience in this field, She is also the Chairman of the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies and former Chairman of the Remote Sensing & Photogrammetry Society. For me, this is about more than just getting a grade, earning credit, or making money; this is an opportunity to learn, ask questions, and impress with my eagerness.

Finding this internship was easy for me. With a short search on Google I found this Pixalytics blog, where a previous student here had posted her impressions and thoughts on the company. I immediately said “This worth trying!” In the next moment I opened my email started writing, I sent wrote emails to multiple addresses, to make sure my message reached the target. After just two days, I received an answer from Mr. Andrew Lavender and it was positive!

I was very happy and because I knew the departure papers would take over a month to be completed, I immediately started doing them. All of this happened at the end of September. After my papers were done, I bought my flight ticket to Luton Airport, then a bus to London and then onto Plymouth. I arrived on December 5th and so, like the previous student, here I am posting my own impressions and thoughts on the Pixalytics blog page.

My first day at Pixalytics started pretty badly, I got lost and arrived a little late. I now remind myself each morning to turn left, not right, when I get off the bus. I got a short introduction to the building where the company is located, and my office for the next three months, which by the way looks very good. The office has a professional, but relaxed, atmosphere and I soon started working, one of my first tasks being the downloading of Sentinel-2A data, which proved a very difficult one due to slow data speeds and functionality of the ESA Data Hub.

Over the next three months, I am expecting to assist Pixalytics in developing their agritech products, explore the potential of Sentinel-2A data and I will be doing my own research into Urban Sprawl in Romania. I am hoping to have the opportunity to present my research at a conference during my placement.

It has been over a week now since I came to Plymouth and I feel great, working at Pixalytics is a great opportunity for my career and I will take full advantage of this. I strongly recommend all students who want to burst their work experience and who want to see what it is like to be in a professional business environment, to search for Erasmus+ placement offers as I did. You will not regret it!

Blog written by Catalin Cimpianu

** Quote is by Tony Hassini, from ‘The Road To Success’

Current Work in Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry

Last week the annual Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc) conference was held in Aberystwyth. Now I’ve stepped down as RSPSoc Chairman I could relax and enjoy this year’s event as a delegate.

Arriving on Wednesday morning, the first session I attended was organised by the Technology and Operational Procedures Special Interest Group (TOPSIG), which was focused on Operational Earth observation. There were a great range of presentations, and I particularly enjoyed the user insights by Andy Wells on how customers are really using imagery. Recent developments in on-the-fly importing, georeferencing and autocorrelation means bringing data together from different sources isn’t a time consuming chore. Users can therefore spend more time analysing data, extracting information and adding value to their organisations or research. In addition, as highlighted by other presentations, open software repositories continue to grow and now include complex algorithms that were once only available to specialists. Finally, Steve Keyworth reminded us that what we do should be seen as a component of the solution rather than the specification; the ultimate aim should be on solving the customer’s problem, which in the current climate is often financially motivated.

Landsat 7 image showing features in the Baltic, data courtesy of ESA

Landsat 7 image showing features in the Baltic, data courtesy of ESA

On Thursday I co-chaired the Water and Marine Environments session alongside Professor Heiko Balzter, on behalf of the Marine Optics Special Interest Group (SIG). My presentation was focused on the European Space Agency (ESA) Landsat archive that’s been acquired via the ESA ground stations. This data is being reprocessed to create a consistent high resolution visible and infrared image dataset combining the three primary sensors used by the series of Landsat satellites; MSS (Multi-spectral Scanner), TM (Thematic Mapper), and ETM+ (Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus). Although historical Landsat missions are not ideally suited to observing the ocean, due to a low signal-to-noise ratio, features can be clearly seen and the new processing setup means images are being processed over the open ocean.

Mark Danson’s keynote lecture on Friday morning described the application of terrestrial laser scanners to understanding forest structure. He showcased his post PhD research which has led to the development of the Salford Advanced Laser Canopy Analyser, a dual-wavelength full-waveform laser scanner. The presentation also showed the importance of fieldwork in understanding what remote techniques are actually sensing, and in this case included a team of people cutting down example trees and counting every leaf!

Mark also made me feel less guilty that I am still working on a component of my PhD – atmospheric correction. In research your own learning curve, and the scientific process, mean you gain new insights as you understand more, often explaining why answers are not as simple as you might have assumed. It’s one of the reasons why I love doing research.

Overall, I had a great time at RSPSoc, catching up and seeing what’s new in the field. My next conference event is Ocean Optics, in the US, at the end of October where I’ll be discussing citizen science in a marine science context.

34th EARSeL Symposium

Last week I attended the 34th Symposium of the European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories, known as EARSeL, in Warsaw, Poland. Originally formed in 1977, EARSeL is a scientific network of academic and commercial remote sensing organisations. It aims include:

  • promoting education and training related to remote sensing and specifically Earth Observation (EO),
  • undertaking joint research projects on the use, and application, of remote sensing,
  • providing governmental, and non-governmental organisations, with a network of remote sensing experts.
EARSeL Bureau Handover Warsaw 2014

EARSeL Bureau Handover
Warsaw 2014

EARSeL is run by a Council of elected national representatives and an executive Bureau, elected by the Council. For the last year I have been proud to serve on the EARSeL executive Bureau as Treasurer for the organisation.  My term of office finished at the symposium, and I’d like to wish the new Bureau a successful year.

In addition I was also the co-chair and presenter for the Oceans & Coastal Zones session on the Monday afternoon and on the Wednesday I taught a session on ‘Introduction to optical data processing with BEAM’ as part of the joint EARSeL & ISPRS (International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing) Young Scientist Days which ran alongside the symposium.

For me the promotion of science generally, and specifically Earth Observation (EO), is an integral part of running Pixalytics. I want to support more people to understand and get involved; in particular, it’s vital that we educate and inspire the early career, and next generation, scientists.

It’s for these reasons that I enjoy working with, and being part of, organisations that are working to inform, educate and promote similar scientific aims. As well as EARSeL treasurer, I was also the Chair of the UK Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc) for three years, and I’m currently vice-chairman of the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC).

It can be challenging to balance the income earning side of Pixalytics with the volunteering side, but it’s worth it. There is a real case for businesses getting their employees to volunteer to support work outside of the company, whether it’s industry promotion, teaching or helping support social issues in the local community. Aside from the obvious support for the cause they are volunteering for, it can also help develop skills in time management, decision-making and leadership.

I’ve learnt a huge amount working with the different organisations, as well as developing skills I’ve met people outside my specialism and have strengthened by business network.  I have no intention of stopping volunteering, and I’ve always got one eye out for new opportunities. Volunteering can add value to your company, however large or small, and I’d recommend all organisations should consider the opportunities this could provide for them and their employees.

Cresting Wavelength 2014

Today is the final day of the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society’s (RSPSoc) annual Wavelength Conference for students and early career professionals in remote sensing and photogrammetry. This year, Pixalytics was one of the sponsors of the conference, which was well attended by students from many international and UK universities, as well as representatives from a number of commercial remote sensing service providers and consultancies.

Over the three day event, keynote speakers and student poster presentations served to illustrate the infinite number of possible applications for remote sensing. One really interesting application was presented Emily Norton, a PhD student at Bournemouth University. She is an experienced forensic anthropologist with the inforce Foundation, which is a charity focussed on providing the forensic expertise for the scientific detection, recovery and identification of victims arising from mass fatality incidents, genocide, war crimes and similar crimes against humanity. Emily has previously worked in Rwanda investigating reports of mass graves following the 1994 genocide. Usually forensic work is intelligence led, but local reports are often imprecise and spatial data is needed to pinpoint graves. Once graves are located, forensic investigation is used to support war crime tribunals and, most importantly, return remains to families for proper burial.

Following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 in the UK, thousands of livestock animals were destroyed and buried at sites across the country. Emily has used Landsat imagery of these animal graves as a basis to study the changes in vegetation at each site; the research she’s done means these principles could be used to detect clandestine mass graves in areas of conflict. Emily won the best poster competition at this year’s conference, and will travel to Bosnia later this year to test the remote sensing method further and begin to develop a streamlined standardised approach which can be used in developing countries to support future humanitarian efforts. With global coverage, a historical archive and the ability to be used safely in remote or high risk areas; remote sensing could be a valuable tool in this area of work.

One of the consistent themes of this year’s conference is that advances in technology mean that remote sensing equipment is becoming smaller, lighter, cheaper and more accurate, enabling a wider variety of remote sensing data to be collected. One of the most interesting features of the earth observation community is that each advance in technology drives new areas of research which, in turn, uncover new uses for remote sensing data, which then demands new technology! Hopefully, ESA’s Sentinel satellites will continue this cycle and inspire a new generation of remote sensing scientists; here’s to Wavelength 2015!

Blog by Bryony Hanlon, work placement student at Pixalytics Ltd and an attendee at Wavelength 2014.

An EO conference roundup: RSPSoc 2013 and the ESA Living Planet Symposium

It’s conference season! I’m at my 2nd conference in 2 weeks, both in Scotland.

Last week was the Remote Sensing & Photogrammetry Society Annual Conference, #RSPSoc2013, hosted in Glasgow. It included a broad range of sessions and scientific output within the ‘family’ atmosphere that you find within societies.

The conference started off with a keynote from Dr. Stewart Walker (BAE Systems and President-Elect of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing)
reviewing the history and innovations in photogrammetry. I was fascinated to find out that in the early days of remote sensing (1960’s) US military satellites ejected cans of photographic film, picked up by aircraft as they fell to Earth, to get high resolution data.

He also showed that since then the number of high resolution optical satellites and the capacity of those satellites to capture information has continuing to increase; in addition to the speed at which an end user can receive captured data. Today Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles (AUVs) have the capability to take very high resolution video that can see objects as small as a songbird.

For me the most incisive comment he made was when he was summarising his own career, where he said that leaders don’t only develop science, but also develop people who develop science. Something worth remembering by every scientific business.

The second keynote was by provided by Craig Clark MBE (Clyde Space), which showcased the growth of the company that is leading the UK Space Agency’s programme to design and launch a cubesat; UKube-1 which is due for launch in December.

Cubesats are small satellites, built in units of 10 cm cubes, with Ukube-1 being 3u i.e. 3 cubes in size (length). These are not the smallest satellites to be launched, but offer the potential to provide scientific quality missions at a much lower cost than conventional satellites; allowing developers to be more innovative with technologies and off the potential for constellation, rather than single, missions. This won’t be the end of conventional larger satellites, as they are still needed for the capture of complex high quality data sets. But these two technologies will give greater flexibility for data capture.

This week I’m at European Space Agency’s Living Planet Symposium http://www.livingplanet2013.org/. Still a ‘family’ atmosphere, but a much larger family with around 1,700 attendees in Edinburgh. The conference has showcased ESA’s historical, current and future missions including SWARM that will be launched in November and the first Copernicus mission (Sentinel 1) that will launch in 2014.

The SWARM constellation (3 satellites) will measure the Earth’s magnetic field which protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles arriving from the Sun. Whereas Sentinel 1 is a radar mission, which has many different applications as it provides a view of the surface roughness – a rough surface will reflect strongly while a smooth surface will reflect weakly – which is available during the day and night irrespective of cloud cover. Examples include tracking vessel movements at sea, monitoring forests and looking at the growth of mega-cities.

The last week has reminded me that remote sensing and photogrammetry are changing and fast moving fields; new technologies are offering us greater opportunities and flexibilities. But as Dr Walker reminded us, behind all these developments are some amazing people.