Catching Wavelength 2017

Remote sensing, like GIS, excels in integrating across disciplines and people. Whilst no one ever said being a multi-disciplinary scientist was going to be easy, for the ‘thirsty’ mind it challenges, cross pollinates ideas and looks at problems with new eyes. A diverse group of people connected by a common thread of spatial and remotely sensed data found themselves doing all these things and more in London last week at the Wavelength 2017 conference.

The talks and posters took us on whirlwind tour through the ever varying landscape of remote sensing. We moved through subject areas ranging from detecting ground ice, vegetation and overall land cover, through to earth surface movement and 3D imaging, and onto agriculture yield and drought. We also covered the different vertical scales from which remotely sensed data is collected, whether from satellites, planes, drones or cameras operated from ground level. On top of this focus we also had some great key note talks, running through the varied career of a remote sensing scientist (Groeger Ltd), as well as in depth data assimilation of remote sensing imagery in models (UCL) and commercial developments in airborne camera work (Geoxphere Ltd).

In parallel, we were taken on a grand tour covering the temperate UK, parts of the Middle East, the tundra in North America, the central belt of Africa, and even onto the moon and Mars! In many cases we heard talks from scientists from these countries (though not the moon or Mars …). Some are based at the universities in the UK, whilst, others came specifically to talk at the conference.

I found myself transfixed by the far flung places. Listening to how the dark side of the moon is being mapped, a place that never sees daylight and is incredibly ‘chilly’ and traps ice in these shadowed lands. I also heard about the CO2 that precipitates out of the atmosphere on Mars as snow and forms a 1m blanket. Working in places like Africa started to feel really quite local and accessible!

Possibly the most intriguing aspect of the conference for me, was the advancements that have been made in photogrammetry and how multiple photos are now being used to produce highly intricate 3D models. We saw this applied to cliff morphology and change detection, as well as the 3D point clouds that are produced when modelling trees and vegetation generally.

The 3D models aren’t totally complete due to line of sight and other issues. The model visualisations look like an impressionist painting to me, with tree leaves without trunks or clumps of green mass suspended in mid air. However, this does not matter when calculating leaf volume and biomass, as these discrepancies can be worked with and lead to some very useful estimates of seasonality and change.

Setting this up is no small feat for the organiser, and PhD student, James O’Connor. He delivered an interesting programme and looked after the delegates well. I can truly say I haven’t been to such a friendly conference before. It was also unique in providing ample time to discuss aspects of material presented, both from talks and posters, and sharing technical know-how. This felt of real value, especially to the PhD students and young professionals this conference is geared towards, but equally myself with experience in only certain fields of remote sensing.

I would highly recommend Wavelength, and look forward to seeing what they are planning for 2018!

Blog written by Caroline Chambers, Pixalytics Ltd.

Riding the Wavelength 2016

View from Mullard Space Science Laboratory

View from Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Wavelength 2016, the Remote Sensing & Photogrammetry Society’s annual conference for remote sensing students and early career scientists took place last week. The venue was the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) at Holmbury St. Mary, Surrey, whose two hundred year old main building is deceptively stately for a science lab – panelled and furnished with seasoned wood – and had a previous life as an orphanage amongst other things.

Pixalytics, who also sponsored the event, sent two delegates this year: Dr Louisa Reynolds and Catalin Cimpianu, our ERASMUS placement student.

The conference offers a strong scientific programme of keynotes, oral presentations and posters. Catalin gave an oral presentation on the research he has been doing during his placement with us, on ‘Monitoring Urban Sprawl Patterns in the Post-Socialist Romanian Cities Using LANDSAT Imagery’. His presentation seemed to go down well with other attendees, given the questions and feedback he received.

Overall, Catalin really enjoyed the conference and found the other delegates very friendly. He felt the student presentations and posters were based on solid research, and covered a diversity of work from missions to Mars through to expeditions in Antarctica for monitoring penguin colonies. They all proved the usefulness of remote sensing and photogrammetry, together with the need for monitoring features on the Earth to get a better understanding and support sustainable future development.

Both Pixalytics representatives acknowledged the presence of some impressive keynote speakers, particularly Professor Jan-Peter Muller, Head of Imaging Group at MSSL and Kathie Bowden, UK National Space Skills and Career Development Manager at the UK Space Agency. Louisa chaired the session on Vegetation Remote Sensing, but that was not her conference highlight.

As well as offering a strong scientific programme, Wavelength also offers a highly active social scene, and for Louisa the highlight was the tour round MSSL. Seeing high precision satellite electronics being built was exciting, and learning that soldering together two of the tiny hair like legs on a ball grid array by mistake could mean the failure of a sensor demonstrated the precision needed in satellite engineering.

Component for a solar wind analyser

Component for a solar wind analyser

On the tour Louisa also saw ‘in the flesh’ the work benches, sealed and unsealed, for making the components and their housings, to fit inside part of a solar wind analyser seen in the picture on the left. Ensuring dust and water are driven from sensor components is essential to avoid condensation and inaccuracies, something we are very aware of within our work. One of the most interesting things Louisa gained from the tour was the importance of materials science for satellite engineering, such as the indispensability of lead and the lightness of aluminium. She also enjoyed the impressive cuisine of the local restaurants!

The conference generated many ideas on the latest trends and updates in Earth observation, together with suggestions on how to develop skills professional qualifications in the field. The summary of the conference comes from Catalin who said:

‘Well organized conference, the venue, the food, social activities, the attention to details and the organizational skills of the hosts were unquestionable and they proved to be very welcoming and hospitable.‘

Well done to everyone involved in Wavelength 2016, we look forward to being involved again next year!

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.