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Keeping a watch on the world

The latest computer gadgetry to monitor the ever-evolving landscape of our planet and the elemental forces that shape it are the subject of a new knowledge exchange network being led by The University of Nottingham.

The Earth Observation Technology Cluster, led by Dr Paul Aplin in the University's School of Geography, is a two-year project funded with 100,000 by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

It will focus on technology that can be used for a range of scientific applications everything from measuring gas emissions from volcanoes to 3-D mapping of natural and urban environments and monitoring the effect of climate change on plant life and the Polar sea ice and icesheets.

Dr Aplin said: "The world in which we live is a complex system of natural and manmade environments which are evolving all the time. In some cases, even the smallest of variations has the potential to have profound implications for the earth's inhabitants and we need to ensure that the technologies we use to monitor this are keeping pace with these changes."

The new network will bring together a community of academics, industrial partners and public research bodies to promote the understanding, development and uptake of the state-of-the-art technologies used to give us the bigger picture on the earth's changing environments and will operate in partnership with the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society, the National Centre for Earth Observation and the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies..

During the course of the project, it will encourage discussion through a series of seminars, workshops and demonstrations and culminate in a national Earth Observation conference showcasing the success stories of the network including future research collaborations or published papers and the latest gadgets in Earth Observation technology.

The network, which is part of the NERC Technology Clusters programme, will focus on five main themes, chosen as part of an open competition and public consultation process within the Earth Observation community.

The five themes are:

  • Low-Altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Observation led by Professor Daniel Donoghue at the University of Durham: The use of lightweight, fixed-wing, helicopters and blimps, balloons and microlites featuring observational technology that allow us to photograph and map from the sky. Among the uses are monitoring crops, coastal algal blooms and vegetation as well as photogrammetry and laser scanning to build 3-D computer models of landscapes and geology.

  • Terrestrial LIDAR Knowledge Exchange Network led by Dr Nicholas Tate at the University of Leicester: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology provides accurate laser-derived 3-D computer models that can range in scale from micro (cm) to landscape (km) scales. Terrestrial (ground based) LiDAR (including mobile platforms) offers the capture of near real-time data for a variety of applications including environmental monitoring and modelling in diverse environments ranging from forests to quarries and river beds.

  • Field-based Fourier Transform Infra-Red Spectroscopy, led by Graham Ferrier at the University of Hull: Field FTIR technology uses infrared light to provide information on the composition of rock, sediment, soil vegetation and the atmosphere and has the potential to revolutionise the application of remote sensing to geology and geomorphology. It has a number of environmental applications such as monitoring gas emissions from volcanoes, measuring air quality and identifying contaminated land.

  • Hyper-Temporal Earth Observation led by Dr Doreen Boyd of The University of Nottingham and Professor Mark Danson of the University of Salford: Hyper-temporal observations are made up of the same image captured at regular intervals via satellite in order to monitor a changing landscape. Among the applications is monitoring the effect of global climate change by examining the change in plant life growth.

  • Circumpolar and Cryospheric Earth Observation led by Allen Pope of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge: Using a range of earth observation technologies to monitor the cryosphere which consists of the frozen parts of the world including ice sheets, glaciers, ice caps, icebergs and snowfall. Among the technologies are multispectral imagery for monitoring the potential effect of climate change on melting glaciers and laser scanning and image comparisons to predict ice avalanches and other natural hazards and to track icebergs.


Contact: Emma Thorne
University of Nottingham

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