EO Detective ID SY20-0708-GAJ-geo28

What do you work on?

Most of my work has been related to removing barriers for the uptake of earth observation outside of the EO community. My main focus is working with ecologists and conservation practitioners, as operational use of imagery is still very rare. During my PhD I worked on standardisation and automating methods for mapping and monitoring. During my first year working for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), I’ve been working with Sentinel-2 data, carrying out pre-processing and distributing ‘analysis-ready’ data to government organisations throughout the UK.

Most recently I have been looking at our natural protected habitats. I first use satellite data to map the area, then try to detect the condition of the habitats. As satellite data can provide information beyond what our eyes can see, we can calculate measures such as vegetation productivity. Currently I’m experimenting with using satellite data going back to the 1980s to get these kinds of measures and detect trends in the condition of vegetation.  This will help us understand the effects of land management and climate change on our ecosystems.

How did you come to be an EO Detective?

My favourite subject at school was geography and I was always a fan of the sciences. My ‘A’ level subjects were biology, chemistry, geography and music (always good to keep your options open!), but I always knew that I wanted to study our natural environment. So I went to Aberystwyth University and got myself a Bachelor of Science degree in physical geography. This is where I got my first introduction to remote sensing and really regretted not doing physics ‘A’ level.

I didn’t really know what to do after finishing my undergraduate degree and, after a couple of years getting lost in travel, I came back to Aberystwyth to pursue a Master’s degree in remote sensing and geographical information systems. Natural Resources Wales were then my main funders for a PhD using earth observation for mapping and monitoring our environment. I haven’t looked back since and now work for the JNCC doing the same thing!

What do the images show?


These maps are of  a dune system at Kenfig, near Bridgend. The first was created using data from Worldview-2 and in situ data (i.e. collected from the field). The vegetation was classified using Random Forests, a popular machine-learning algorithm. It is a map of an Annex I habitats – that is, one defined in the European Commission’s Habitats Directive – and is unusual because most information collected to support reporting for the Directive is done with field data only, rather than using EO data.

The second map  focused on the slacks: low-lying areas that are low in nutrients and seasonally flooded. The same data and techniques are used again to separate out dominant species. The presence of particular species gives an indication of the habitat’s condition. The successionally young class, for example, is extremely important as it includes 100% of the UK population of the sand dune variety of the fen orchid.

Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2016

The other image is an example of one of the Sentinel-2 scenes I processed to surface reflectance. The wide swath width and 10 m pixel resolution of this data really is incredible and if you get a clear day, like 18 July 2016 was for most of the country, then you get a lot of really useful data. You can get cloud-free data over whole countries – all of Wales is covered here!

Tell us about your favourite image of the Earth from space

Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2016

Choosing a favourite image is really hard … but this Sentinel-2 image of Mount Etna erupting just about edges in the lead. However, bear in mind, I will probably have a new favourite image next week! As a physical geographer, I’ve always been really fascinated by our planet and to see something as powerful as an eruption from space so clearly really is something.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love to travel, I’m always planning my next trip. I also really like watching and playing sports. Of course it’s compulsory for me, as a Welsh person, to love watching some rugby; I’m a Manchester United fan and I follow Formula 1. I’m a regular netball player (although currently recovering from an injury). I also like music and play the piano.

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