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New publication by SENSE manager

Ruth Amey, SENSE’s Leeds-based centre manager, has just published a new paper using satellite imagery to create high-resolution maps of ground surface elevation. This is then used to better inform estimates of hazard and risk due to earthquakes.

The paper focusses on Almaty in Kazakhstan. Almaty, like many cities around the world, it is located close to a number of active faults on which earthquakes can occur. There may also potentially be faults underneath the city that have been buried as Almaty has expanded and increased in population to approximately 2 million.

Almaty city, taken looking South. The mountains are formed by active faults.

In the paper, the authors use Pleiades and SPOT stereo satellite imagery. This is optical satellite imagery of the same area taken from at least two different angles.

Google Earth image of Almaty, Kazakhstan, with an indication of the locations of the two Pleiades satellites

Then by using photogrammetric methods, the authors create high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs). As the gif below shows, DEMs at very low resolution can pick out the outline of mountain ranges, but not much more than this. With Pleiades imagery, we can create DEMs of approximately 2m resolution, meaning we can pick out details in the city such as buildings and trees. This is the resolution needed to identify subtle changes in elevation in cities that may indicate there are active faults.

DEMs of different resolution over Almaty city. Adapted from figure in Amey et al., 2021

With these high-resolution DEMs, fieldwork and other literature, the authors identify and examine a potential active fault underneath Almaty city. The authors then use the Global Earthquake Model‘s Openquake Engine to calculate the hazard (ground shaking) and risk (damage and losses) to Almaty city.

You can read the full paper (open-access) here.

SENSE has a blast talking about satellites


The University of Leeds runs an annual open research festival called Be Curious, which aims to showcase how research at Leeds is making a world of difference to people’s lives. In 2021’s online extravaganza, SENSE students, academics and managers were involved in a whole host of events. This includes in the Be Curious LATES programme, making short videos and the headline act: Be Curious x Unlimited Space Agency: LIVE from the Space Shed. SENSE scientists were interviewed by Jon Spooner from the Unlimited Space Agency, and not forgetting Mini-Jon … You can watch the full event here, or below we’ve put the videos for each session.


Brrr… science in the coldest, windiest and most remote continent on Earth

Professor Dame Jane Francis and SENSE student Bryony Freer launched the day, and both shared their love of Antarctica.

Jane’s favourite memory of Antarctica was sitting on the edge of cliff looking out over the ocean after a long day of collecting samples; the sun was shining, the wind had dropped so it was warm (it does happen in Antarctica!). The sun was shining on the ice, the icebergs and tiny flakes of ice in the air. The sun was hitting these tiny flakes and made the whole world glittery. It was calm and tranquil, with no noise. Sounds beautiful.

Bryony went over Christmas, so got to experience the the whitest of white Christmasses you could imagine! On Christmas eve, they’d been digging snow pits ~2-3m deep to look at layers in the ice… which they turned it into a cave! They then slept in their snowcave overnight and woke up on christmas day, as it started snowing on their faces, in Antarctica. Amazing.

Watch their full interview here (hats and gloves not necessary!):


Build your own satellite model

SENSE student Sophie Durston led the audience through how to build your very own Aeolus satellite model. Aeolus is a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite, and the very first satellite used to measure wind. It was launched in 2018, and recently the measurements have been used to improve weather forecasts. Find out more fun facts from Sophie and SENSE manager Ruth Amey, as they make their own models in the video below.

Once you’ve download your template from the ESA website here, and have some scissors and glue handy, Sophie will lead you through the steps:

With all the satellites she ‘made earlier’, we look forward to watching Sophie’s future career as a presenter of Blue Peter…! And can you make your satellite in 1 minute 16 seconds, like in SENSE student Phoebe Hudson‘s video?

And if building Aeolus isn’t enough, take a look on the ESA website at all the other satellites you can build at home. Will you go for Rosetta? Integral? Or one of the many spacecrafts? Perhaps you could do them all….


A Tour of Earth from Space

Next, we blasted off with SENSE students Bryony Freer and Calum Hoad, who took us on a Tour of Earth from Space. We don’t want to give too much away… but highlights included stuck ships, retreating glaciers and even penguin poo.

Watch the video below for a tour of Earth as you’ve never seen it below, and you can follow along using this resource page.


The Earth from Inside Out

SENSE manager Dr. Ruth Amey and Ita Gonzalez discussed watching the Earth quake and volcanoes erupt, from Space. Ruth uses satellites that can see through clouds to watch the ground move centimetresor milimeters in earthquakes… using satellites that are orbiting at 693km above the Earth!

And they discuss not only earthquakes on Earth… but also on the moon and Mars. Where of course they aren’t earthquakes at all, but moonquakes and marsquakes.


How I hacked my way into Space

A very special session… look out for future Space Shed events to find out how Mini-Jon hacked his way into Space!


Q&A with Mini Jon and Dr Alice Bunn, the UK Space Agency’s former International Director

SENSE is delighted to be partly funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA), and we really enjoyed hearing Jon interview Dr Alice Bunn, the former UKSA International Director.

Find out what it’s like to be the international director of a Space agency(!) in this video:


Understanding the world’s oceans, from space

Dr Fatma Jebri and SENSE student Sophie Durston took the audience to the world’s oceans.

Wave hello to them in their interview here, and find out what satellites can tell us about seaweed:


Lates – Morag Fotheringham

SENSE student Morag Fotheringham gave a brilliant talk in the Be Curious lates session: sustainable scientific solutions.

Hear from Morag about her work watching Arctic Glaciers sliding away in a warming climate:


Measuring climate change from Space – in two minutes

Climate change is the defining issue of our time – find out in Bryony’s video how we use satellites up in Space to measure climate change


The students have landed

Twenty days after Be Curious x Unlimited Space Agency: LIVE from the Space Shed, the YouTube video has received over 560 views!

We’re over the moon at the success of this event, and so proud of the SENSE students involved in this – Bryony Freer, Sophie Durston, Calum Hoad, Morag Fotheringham, Phoebe Hudson for their interviews, talks, videos and practical activities; Emily Dowd and Lucy Wells for working behind the scenes on social media, and Bryony for coordinating the SENSE involvement.

Thanks to the Engaged Research team at Leeds (Alexa Ruppertsberg and Shauni Sanderson) and to Jon Spooner from Unlimited Space Agency, for all the fun, science and satellites!

Not another wellbeing workshop… by PGRs for PGRs

23rd August 2021 1pm-3pm

Ticket link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/not-another-wellbeing-workshop-for-pgrs-by-pgrs-tickets-163029582871

Organising committee: Heather Selley and Fran Morris

Whilst not everyone struggles with their mental health as a PGR, a large proportion do. We are committed to creating safe spaces where our students can come together and not suffer alone.

Next month, PhD students at the University of Leeds in collaboration with SENSE bring you ‘Not another wellbeing workshop…’ with the aim of enabling open discussions about wellbeing and mental health in the Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) community. 1 in 2 PhD students struggle with mental health during their PhD and a recent survey of PGRs in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Leeds showed that 85% of students surveyed reported their mental wellbeing to be moderately to severely affected in the past year. However, over 60% of those affected have not sought support for their mental health.   

This workshop will share the resources available at the University and externally along with sharing the experiences of past and present PGRs through two panel discussions.   

The first the panel will discuss their own experiences of struggles during their postgraduate research. You will have the opportunity to anomalously share your own experiences and concerns on our padlet walls (a virtual note board). The second panel will discuss tips and tricks that have helped them, and you will be again encouraged to use our padlet wall to contribute to this discussion and share your own ideas. The panel are not experts on mental health – they are your peers sitting on the virtual desk next to you! We hope that by discussing personal experiences in event created by PGRs for PGRs, we can start an important conversation in our PGR community that creates a happier, healthier and supportive peer network that we will all benefit from.  

At the end of the discussion session, we have invited the University of Leeds Student Counselling and Wellbeing service to present the services and professional support that is available for you to access at any time. You can find information about these resources here  at the University of Leeds, and here at the University of Edinburgh. 

There will be virtual coffee breaks to have a breather and a good old chat (BYO virtual tea, coffee and cake strongly recommended!). Throughout the week following the event there will be a couple of opportunities to have coffee breaks to chat with some of the panellists about anything that may come up or if you just want to decompress over the rest of the week.  

While we are aiming to provide a safe and supportive space for PGRs who have struggled with their mental health, this is also very much open to anyone who has not. It can be an opportunity to learn more about the issues your peers might be struggling with too, and how to best support them through some of the common challenges that are faced while doing a PhD. Through conversation with those of us who struggle more and less with these issues, we hope to help reduce some of the stigma associated with discussing these issues amongst PGRs.

This workshop is strictly for PGRs to aid open discussion of issues, which may not be achieved, with more senior staff present. Any key themes and anonymised statistics from polls etc. might be shared with management teams to help move towards more open discussions around mental health and the academic environment. Whilst the panel will be discussing their own personal struggles, this event is not a place to get individualised help for specific issues you may be dealing with, but we will direct you to places and people who can. 

The event will run through zoom webinars and will not require you to disclose any of your personal details. We have used padlet walls to enable anonymity for all those attending and contributing their own experiences. Please remember to be kind with anything you post. During the event there may be polls used to gauge the feeling in the ‘virtual room’, but these will only show the stats output and no result will be traceable back to you. 

Please do not attend the workshop if you feel the likely topics will be triggering to you. Please put you own mental health and safety first even if this means changing your mind last minute.  Ticket link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/not-another-wellbeing-workshop-for-pgrs-by-pgrs-tickets-163029582871

Nick Homer wins Alan Turing Enrichment Scheme

Huge congratulations to SENSE student Nick Homer, for his successful application to the Alan Turing Institute Enrichment Scheme. Nick will be spending 9 months from March 2022, working part-time at the Alan Turing Institute in London.

The Turing Enrichment scheme offers students currently enrolled on a doctoral programme at a UK university the opportunity to spend up to 12 months at the Turing in London. The Enrichment scheme has been designed to give students undertaking a PhD the opportunity to support and enhance their current research by accessing the facilities and opportunities available at The Alan Turing Institute and its partners. Students usually join in their second or third years of a typical doctorate, to further the work they are undertaking for their research project and support the completion of the PhD.

Applications for 2021 have now closed, but if you’re interested in applying for next year you can view this information session on Turing’s YouTube channel

The Alan Turing Institute logo

It’s time to Be Curious about Space

by SENSE students Emily Dowd and Lucy Wells

Next week, SENSE students and staff will be joining the Leeds University ‘BeCurious’ event, a 10-day festival of science showcasing how research makes a difference to people’s lives. ‘BeCurious’ is the university’s annual open research event, and this year focuses on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SENSE student outreach reps have been working hard to develop events for the online festival, including the all-day Space Shed LIVE headline event on the 10th July. Read on for more information on SENSE’s activities! 

Enabling Sustainable Lives (8th July 8-9pm)

For the first time, BeCurious are running BeCurious LATES evening talks, specifically for adult audiences. SENSE student Morag Fotherigham will be joined on the 8th July (8-9pm) by Professor Andrew Nelson and Dr Devesh Mistry to discuss how earth observation techniques are used to tackle environmental problems. 

Tickets link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/be-curious-lates-sustainable-scientific-solutions-tickets-157073259347 

Be Curious x Unlimited Space Agency: LIVE from the Space Shed (10th July 10am-4pm)

Join SENSE students and Earth Observation scientists on a trip to outer space on Saturday 10th of July. There are a variety of fun activities to get involved with, read on to find what is happening in the Space Shed!

Bryony Freer talking about Antarctica with Prof Dame Jane Francis (10:20)

SENSE student Bryony will be joined by Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey in discussion about science in the coldest, windiest and most remote continent on earth. We’ll find out what it’s like to use satellites to study Antarctic ice sheet grounding lines from space. 

Build Your Own Satellite (11:00)

SENSE students Sophie and Phoebe, along with Leeds SENSE manager Ruth will be running an interactive build-your-own-model-satellite session. Find out more about what satellites look like and how they work!

Tour of Earth from Space (11:40)

SENSE Students Bryony Freer and Calum Hoad will give a guided tour from outer space. It’s amazing what you can see from space so tune in to find out more!

Earth From Inside Out (12:20)

Did you know that we can investigate earthquakes from space!? Listen in to an interview with Leeds SENSE manager and solid Earth scientist Dr Ruth Amey and University of Leeds PhD candidate Itahisa Gonzalez Alvarez.

Hacked My Way into Space (14:00)

Jon and Mini Jon from the Unlimited Space Agency tell their story of how they hacked their way into space with the help of astronaut Tim Peake!

Understanding The World’s Oceans from Space (15:20)

Join SENSE student Sophie Durston and oceanographer Dr Fatma Jebri for an interview on understanding the oceans from space.

Ticket Link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/be-curious-x-unlimited-space-agency-live-from-the-space-shed-tickets-157067837129 

Call for project ideas for the final round of SENSE PhD studentships

Deadline: 19th September 2021

We are very happy to announce a call for PhD project proposals, in the final round of the SENSE Earth Observation CDT recruitment, for studentships starting October 2022.

The key facts are:

  • All PhD projects will focus on using Earth Observation data, with many projects also expected to make use of advanced computer techniques such as machine learning
  • 16 PhD students will be funded in this cohort, we will advertise ~32 projects
    • Note, in order to ensure we maintain a good success rate for the advertised projects, not all submitted PhD proposals will be advertised.
  • To encourage collaboration across the SENSE community, all supervisory teams must have co-supervisors from at least 2 institutes (Leeds, Edinburgh, BAS, NOC)
    • We can provide support in linking you up
    • We welcome additional co-supervisors from other non-SENSE institutes
    • All students will be registered at the Universities of Edinburgh or the University of Leeds (50/50 split)
  • All students will undertake a 3-month industry placement
  • We are running academic & industry virtual mixer events on the Tue 24th August to help connect academics in different departments and institutes, and industrial partners, to attend please register your interest here
  • Project proposal submission deadline is the 19th September 2021

SENSE’s recruitment committee will select ~32 of the best projects that align with SENSE’s specific remit to advertise. For further advice and top tips about how to submit a good SENSE PhD proposal, and the full recruitment schedule, please see ‘SENSE PhD proposal writing tips’ below

If you have any questions or if you’d like any support with your project proposal please get in touch with Ruth Amey at Leeds (eo_cdt@leeds.ac.uk) or Eleanor Graham at Edinburgh (sense@ed.ac.uk ).

We really look forward to hearing from you.

The SENSE recruitment committee


SENSE PhD proposal writing tips:

SENSE has a recruitment committee with members from its four institutes (Edinburgh, Leeds, NOC and BAS) who will select the projects to advertise in October. Only the best projects that align with SENSE’s ethos will be advertised. Please ensure that all criteria are met and that project descriptions have sufficient detail and give tangible outcomes.

Successful project proposals have:

  • High quality science that is clearly described (compulsory)
  • Strong focus on Earth Observation (compulsory) and advanced data science techniques (strongly encouraged)
  • Environmental science as subject area (compulsory)
  • Multi-institute supervisory teams (compulsory)
  • CASE partner (strongly encouraged)
  • Diverse supervisory teams (strongly encouraged – let us know if you would like support with this, again we are very happy to help!)

Overall SENSE recruitment schedule:

  • Academic and industry virtual mixer events – Tue 24th August
  • Deadline for academics to submit PhD project proposals – 19th September 2021
  • SENSE PhD projects advertised online – 11th October 2021
  • PhD applications close – 9th January 2021
  • PhD offers made – from late February / early March
  • Students start – 1st October 2022

Submit a PhD proposal:

  • To submit a PhD proposal for the October 2022 cohort, fill out this form
  • Academics may submit one first-supervisor proposal each year (they may be second supervisor on others)
  • You will need the following information:
    • Project title
    • Lead supervisor names and organisation
    • Co-supervisor names and organisations
    • Organisation at which the student will be based (Edinburgh, Leeds, NOC and BAS) and registered (Leeds or Edinburgh only)
    • Industry partner name (if known)
    • PhD project description (1 page), including:
      • Scientific background and motivation
      • Aims and objectives of the PhD project
      • Methodology, including clear description of Earth Observation datasets and techniques used, and details of any advanced computer techniques

New publication from SENSE student Max Lowe

Huge congratulations to SENSE student Max Lowe for publishing his first paper, from his Msc thesis, in EGU journal Solid Earth.

Max says –

This study estimates the gravitational contribution of former tectonic plates subducted into Earth’s interior (slabs) to the Alpine gravity field. Different seismological studies identified various slab segments beneath the Alpine mountain belt within Earth’s upper mantle. However, the position, geometry and extend of those slabs vary strongly in those studies. In addition, some recent gravity models do not account for such heterogeneities in the Earth’s mantle.

Here, the sensitivity of gravity measurements to variation in slab position, geometries and volume is tested. Therefore, two competing slab configurations are defined based on seismological findings. In addition, the gravity contribution caused by slab segments within the Earth’s mantle is estimated by forward calculating density distributions based on three different modelling approaches. a) direct conversion of seismic velocities to density distributions, b) density variation based on predefined slab configurations and c) calculating density distributions based on geophysical and petrological modelling taking rock composition, temperature and pressure into consideration.

We find that the gravity signal caused by the slab segments is sharp and can be separated for the different slab segments for the gravity field measured at near surface height. At satellite altitude the contribution of different slab segments cannot be separated anymore. We showed that slab segments can contribute up to 40 mGal to the Alpine gravity field. This is significant and demonstrates that future studies should account for densities variation within the mantle caused by slabs to provide a meaningful representation of the geodynamic complex Alpine area.

You can read the paper here.

SENSE nominated for Leeds partnership award

SENSE are delighted to have been nominated for a Leeds Partnership Award this year for our work on improving equality, diversity and inclusion in recruitment procedure.

The SENSE team were nominated for going ‘above and beyond’ in their work on improving equality and inclusion in SENSE’s postgraduate recruitment procedure, and for continually pushing this agenda in the School of Earth and Environment and across the University.

So thank you for our anonymous nominator, and congratulations to the winners!

Apply now for a Research Experience Placement

Paid Summer Internships for Undergraduate Students – deadline 16th May 2021

We are delighted to advertise eleven paid summer internships for undergraduate students with supervisory teams at the University of Edinburgh and University of Leeds.

These internships will allow talented individuals to explore how using satellite data and machine learning/AI techniques can monitor and attempt to tackle environmental problems.

These internships would be ideal for an undergraduate student heading into their final year of study who is considering a research career and wants to gain experience and mentoring to support this.

In additional successful completion of an internship with SENSE will guarantee an interview for a PhD studentship with SENSE for 2022.  

The internships: 

  • Are six weeks in length to be completed during the summer vacation period (including four day paid leave).
  • Paid at UE03 (£345.38 per week).
  • Will be completed by remote working (i.e. intern can be located anywhere in the UK).
  • Will allow the intern to gain research experience and receive mentoring from the SENSE CDT team to support their future PhD applications.

Applications are welcome from students in any science discipline (including engineering, computing, mathematics, geosciences) however you cannot apply for an internship in the department you are currently studying in.

Please see below for details of the projects and application details. Informal enquires to sense.recruitment@ed.ac.uk

These are being widely advertised through Satellite Applications Catapult, Space Hub Yorkshire, Twitter and direct emails to undergraduate departments.

SENSE at vEGU 2021

A number of SENSE students are attending virtual EGU this year – we wish them the best of luck with their presentations, and hope they have many useful discussions!

Today (Mon 26th April) at 2pm CEST Max Lowe has a poster on ‘Unveiling lithosphere heterogeneity beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Wilkes Subglacial Basin‘.

Tomorrow (Tue 27th April) at 13.42pm CEST Emily Dowd has a PICO presentation on ‘Quantifying the contribution of regional methane emissions to the global methane budget between 2008 and 2018 using the TOMCAT chemical transport model’