New doctoral training centre for Earth Observation of environmental challenges

3 January 2020

An exciting new centre has been announced that will train 50 PhD students to tackle environmental challenges using the latest satellite data.

Students at the University of LeedsCredit: University of Leeds

The new cohort of PhD students will be trained to analyse satellite data for the purpose of climate change modelling, atmospheric science, and monitoring change in land, forest, ice and oceans. They will be supervised by a consortium of world-leading UK scientists, with support from the UK’s most innovative data companies.

SENSE – Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science is being established with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK Space Agency.

It is being led by the universities of Edinburgh and Leeds, with a number of other partners such as the National Oceanography Centre, the British Antarctic Survey and international space agencies including the European Space Agency.

The new centre for doctoral training will work also with 18 UK businesses who will co-fund, co-design & co-supervise 42 of the PhD research projects.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “The UK is leading the world in tackling climate change and we have set the bar high, as the first country to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions.

“This new satellite data centre will give us instant images showing us the true impact of climate change and in doing so, help us develop innovative new ways of tackling it.”

Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said: “Earth Observation is an essential component of NERC’s funding remit, cutting across the full breadth of NERC science. Students will benefit from access to an innovative training programme and will develop future environmental science leaders. Their research will support cutting-edge scientific discovery, new data-based products and new Earth observation technologies that allow the delivery of environmental advances essential to providing the potential benefits that Earth observation has to society.

“NERC recognises the value of delivering studentships in partnership. Working with the UK Space Agency gives students unique opportunities to engage with the wider community.”

Dr Anna Hogg, co-director of the centre in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said: “Earth observation satellites collect hundreds of terabytes of data per day, delivering important information about how fast glaciers flow, the size of forest fires in the Amazon, and the quality of the air that we breathe.

“Through SENSE we have a fantastic opportunity to grow the community of researchers with the skills and knowledge to measure the how our environment is changing.”

Dr Edward Mitchard, centre leader at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are looking for outstanding candidates from environmental science, maths, physics, engineering and computer science disciplines to undertake a PhD in this exciting and innovative centre.

“The students will belong to a happy, inclusive and stimulating research environment, with supervision from world-leading earth observation scientists.”

At the 2019 European Space Agency Ministerial Council in November the UK Space Agency committed over £200 million of investment in Earth Observation, including a UK-led TRUTHS mission to help tackle climate change and the ESA Copernicus Space Component, which runs to 2028.

Beth Greenaway, Head of Earth Observation and Climate at the UK Space Agency, said: “The UK’s Satellite Earth Observation sector is world class. We are at the forefront of innovative new technology and tools for measuring our planet from space. We have many of the world leading scientists and academics who can use this data for cutting-edge science discoveries and we have a commercial sector able to build the missions and create services for the public and private sector.

“The rapid growth of the Earth Observation sector means we need to attract thousands of people with the right skills over the next 10 years. This new Centre for Doctoral Training – SENSE – is very exciting. Working with NERC we will support students to spend time with the European Space Agency to learn from their wealth of experience and put their academic learning into real world examples.  I am very much looking forward to working with the SENSE team to make this new and ambitious initiative a success for the students and for the UK space sector.”

Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observation Programmes at the European Space Agency (ESA), said: “In the frame of its Earth observation activities, ESA is very much interested in the joint UK Space Agency/NERC initiative to support PhD research opportunities at it fits with the Agency objectives to foster the use of satellite Earth observation data to achieve a better understanding of the Earth and its environment as well as climate change.”