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SENSE Students present, ‘takeover’, and win at COP26


SENSE Students in the Blue Zone

On 10 November, SENSE student Bryony Freer and Heather Selley had the opportunity to host a side event in the ICCI Cryosphere Pavilion within the COP26 Blue Zone, following the publication of Heather’s study on the speedup of glaciers in the Getz region of Antarctica. Here, Bryony shares an account and pictures of their experience in Glasgow. 

Getting to Glasgow

Heather and I headed up to Scotland the day before our event, greeted by countless ‘Welcome to Glasgow’ signs and COP26 volunteers as we arrived at Glasgow Central station. It was a very exciting atmosphere, but we decided to spend our first night prepping our talk in the hotel room. The next day we headed to the Blue Zone bright and early, but just getting inside was a mission in itself! The whole area had been closed off for cars and we had to pass through several climate protests, turnstiles, airport-style security, and ID checks showing our passports, UNFCCC accreditation and a negative covid test result before we could enter the main conference centre.

Our Side Event in the Cryosphere Pavilion

Once we made it in, we headed straight to the Cryosphere Pavilion to get ready for our event at 10am: ‘West Antarctica: Getz on the Run’. Nerves were high, but after checking our slides all worked and getting mic’d up, we were ready to go!

Heather kicked off the session with a discussion of the importance of the Antarctic ice sheet in the global climate system. I followed up by highlighting the important role of satellites and earth observation data in underpinning climate change science and monitoring its impacts in the polar regions. Heather then presented findings from her study on the speedup of glaciers in the Getz region of Antarctica, and we finished up together to tell the story of the series of climate treaties, conferences and reports chosen by Heather to give their names to 9 previously unnamed glaciers in the Getz region. These included:

  • Geneva Glacier – the world’s first climate conference in 1979
  • Rio Glacier – the first ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992
  • Berlin Glacier – the first Conference of Parties (COP1) in 1995. 
  • Kyoto Glacier – the signing of the Kyoto Protocol at COP3 in 1997
  • Bali Glacier – the release of IPCC Assessment Report 4 (AR4) in 2007
  • Stockholm Glacier – the IPCC AR5 approval session in 2014
  • Paris – the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement
  • Incheon – the special report of global warming of 1.5°C
  • Glasgow Glacier – the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26)

These were named to honour 42 years of scientific collaboration and climate policy decision making, but also act as a symbol of what was at stake in Glasgow.

The event seemed to go down well and after some interesting Q&As we were able to enjoy chatting with some of our audience over coffee + pastries. You can watch the event back on the ICCI Youtube Channel here

Exploring the Blue Zone

In the afternoon, we set off exploring the rest of the conference centre!  First up we went to check out the other pavilions, most importantly to see who was offering the best food and merch (South Africa definitely took the prize here!). We were able to sit in on a couple of very interesting talks, including a side event run in the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion about how Indigenous Women and Girls across the world understand climate change, and a lunch briefing in the Nordic Pavilion from members of the Icelandic Youth Environmentalist Association.

Attending an event in the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion: ‘How Indigenous Women and Girls Understand Climate Change’

As observers in the Blue Zone we were also able to sit in on many of the main Plenary sessions. Heather and I managed to get a seat in the ‘Informal stocktaking plenary by the Present’ led by Rt Hon Alok Sharma.  It was very exciting sitting in the room alongside representatives from all of the different UN member states, and witnessing how these kinds of meetings function. To be honest much of the actual content was pretty dry, going through precise wording of texts drafted during the negotiations, but it was interesting to see how each member was given the opportunity to make interventions putting forward their points of view.

Heather and Bryony in the ‘Action Zone’

In the evening, we headed to the ‘Action Zone’ – a huge space filled with media outlets broadcasting to the world. Of course we had to get some photos under the huge spinning globe suspended above us – a poignant reminder of all that we were trying to protect during COP26. We were able to watch the UN Global Climate Action awards ceremony, in which prizes were awarded to innovative projects across the globe showing innovative, scalable and replicable examples of action to tackle climate change. A highlight was seeing the Climate Neutral Now award given to Taylors of Harrogate! The awards ended with a speech by Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and an inspiring musical performance, entitled ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’.  This was a very uplifting end to our first day at COP!

Whilst Heather was working with Space4Climate in the Green Zone for the rest of the week, I decided to make the most of my Blue Zone pass. Morag (a fellow SENSE student) was able to join me from Edinburgh on the Friday and together we did some more exploring! As this was technically the last day of COP it was an exciting day to be inside, although disappointingly a lot of the more juicy meetings and negotiations were closed to observers. One of the most inspiring sessions we were able to attend though was the People’s Plenary organised by the COP26 Coalition. Here, representatives from UNFCCC civil society groups around the world took the stage to deliver the People’s Decision for Climate Justice, demanding a just and urgent outcome from COP26. These groups included the Gender and Women constituency, YOUNGO (Children and Youth constituency), Farmers & Peasants, CAN International, the Disability Caucus, Trade Unions Congress Demand Climate Justice and Indigenous Peoples.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, speaking at the UN Global Climate Action awards ceremony

The huge room was full to capacity, brimming with energy with speakers expressing their deep frustration with the outcomes of the climate summit; a stark contrast to the rather dry official plenary sessions that we had attended earlier in the week. Emotions were high; people chanting, singing and crying. The session ended with a call for hundreds of us to march out of the Blue Zone meet a rally of climate justice movements hosted by Fridays for Future Scotland. Morag and I joined the march and it was a very memorable experience that will stay with us for a long time.

On our last night, Heather and I went for a celebratory meal and drinks with other COP26 attendees from Leeds, including Prof. Piers Forster who brought along some of his other IPCC colleagues! A fantastic way to end our time in Glasgow.

It was a privilege to have the opportunity to attend and present at COP26 and it has definitely inspired us to become more engaged with climate change policy & action in the future.


SENSE Student is joint-winner of the COP26 SFN Hackathon!

One of big problems facing small scale farmers today is a lack of timely and good quality services that help them improve their farming methods and techniques. With the onset of the digital revolution, many organisations offer a variety of digital applications for farmers, but these tend to be siloed with a lack of transparency and interoperability. Farmers and farming collectives end up subscribing to too many independent solutions.

In an effort to address this, the STFC Food Network (link) has been involved in developing an integrated platform for small scale farming collectives in order to improve their incomes, tclimate resilience, and to improve transparency and traceability in the supply chain.

As part of this, the STFC Food Network launched a ‘hackathon’ event in November, in which different groups of scientists, coders etc competed over the course of a few days to develop an integrated open access platfom for recommending crop type, planting data, management advice and more for smallholder farmers in India. This was a competition with a cash prize for first place, alongside additional funding for winners to develop their projects further into a real world application. More info here https://www.stfcfoodnetwork.org/cop26-hackathon.html

SENSE Student Sam Bancroft was announed joint-winner, and he says –

Working against a tight deadline, I developed an application that I called the ‘One Stop Crop Shop’ – an online portal using data science and machine learning techniques to help Indian smallholder farmers. By using soil maps and meteorological data, guided by farming decisions over the last 5 years, I successfully trained a machine learning model that recommended the top crops for a farmer to plant given a date, location, and field size.

Other features of the application included:

  1. Information on soil health, including how best to manage a crop with fertilisers. Local weather information for a location could be used to inform farmers as to when they should or shouldnt apply fertiliser to their fields.
  2. A tool to allow farmers to look up local market data in their district, and quickly analyse market trends for a given crop.
  3. An aproach using historical satellite imagery to infer when previous crops have been sown and harvested, in order to given farmers a good sense on how their neighbours and competitors have managed their crops.
See Sam’s online portal in action

I was really pleased to be announced joint-winner of this hackathon, sharing my prize with ‘Team Revive’. We’re in discussions on how to further our work with the STFC Food Network and I’m excited about the potential for my data science platform to have a real-world impact.

Well done Sam!


SENSE Students in S4C Youth Takeover

On the Fridays of COP26, the Green Zone – or public outreach area – hosted a ‘Youth Takeover’, focussing on the impacts on, and role of young people in the climate crisis. SENSE students Amber Turton, Lucy Wells and Calum Hoad made the trip to Glasgow to ‘Takeover’ the Space4Climate stand in the Green Zone, alongside other young people in the Earth Observation sector. 

Space4Climate is an organisation that links together different users of Earth Observation data for research and climate action. We joined their stand to demonstrate to the public the wide range of satellite data that’s available, and how it’s used in many different ways for climate science, from figuring out where peatlands are degrading and emitting carbon, to understanding how the Antarctic ice sheets are changing. 

We shared the world of satellite data with the public using interactive displays such as a ‘pufferfish’ globe to represent different data across the globe.


SENSE at COP26

SENSE students, directors, academics and managers are involved in a number of events at COP26, the United Nations climate change conference that the UK will be hosting in November 2021.

We round up the sessions that SENSE members are involved in:

EventDescriptionDate / TimeLocationLink
A roadmap for the future/ empowering the globe to save the polesSENSE student Penny Clarke is organising and hosting Polar Pint of Science events in the run up to COP to discuss topics around the polar regions, past present and future and the climate crisis26th October

6pm
VirtualWatch here
From Ice Cores to Space Lasers: The Life of a Polar ScientistSENSE/BAS student Bryony Freer and BAS student Dorothea Moser are talking about their exciting work to better understand the past, present and future changes of climate in Antarctica. They will explain the different tools they use for their research, unlocking the stories of ice from individual snowflakes to an entire frozen continent. Saturday 30th October

2.00pm -2.30pm
Pre-COP26 event in Lecture Theatre at Ice Worlds festival, Royal Maritime Museum LondonFind out more here
Space4Climate Youth TakeoverSENSE students Lucy Wells, Amber Turton, Morag Fotheringham, Phoebe Hudson, Bryony Freer and Penny Clarke have produced content to be shared on the Space4Climate stand on the Youth Takeover days, such as student profiles, and short outreach videos such as building origami satellites5th November

All day
Green Zone
Making Space for Spatial: applying doctoral skills to the climate crisisThis is a student-led session joint with the Geospatial Systems CDT. SENSE students Sam Bancroft and Morag Fotheringham will explain how they are using satellites and wider geospatial technologies to monitor and understand environmental change. 5th November

10am – 12
KTN’s Virtual PavilionRegister here
Geospatial and climate education: a call to the next generationSENSE manager Ruth Amey joined a panel discussion to discuss what is being done to promote this learning pathway for today’s students and encourage young people to continue in geographical education for the purposes of strengthening the science behind climate action.5th November

2pm-4pm
KTN’s Virtual PavilionAgenda here
West Antarctica: Getz on the runSENSE student Bryony Freer and Heather Selley are presenting on the Getz region of West Antarctica, which is losing ice at an increasing rate. A recent study used satellite observations and an ice sheet model to measure ice speed and mass balance for this lesser studied area over the last 25-years and found an average increase in speed of 24 % between 1994 and 2018, with three glaciers accelerating by over 44 %.  10th November

10am – 11.30
Blue Zone, ICCI Cryosphere Pavilion
Space4Climate Youth Takeover SENSE students Lucy Wells, Amber Turton, Morag Fotheringham, Phoebe Hudson, Bryony Freer and Penny Clarke have produced content to be shared on the Space4Climate stand on the Youth Takeover days, such as student profiles, and short outreach videos such as building origami satellites 12th November

All day
Green Zone




Monitoring ocean salinity from space – ‘Images of Climate Innovation’
Dr Encarni Medina-Lopez, member of SENSE is showcasing the creativity and endeavour of researchers to develop new ways to reduce greenhouse emissions, adapt life to the changing climate, help us to better understand the nature of the climate and its impacts, and inform action.5-26 NovCOP26 Universities Climate Innovation Showcase
Read more here

Not Another Wellbeing Workshop: Summary and Feedback



Organising Committee: Heather Selley and Fran Morris

On the 23rd August 2021, Heather Selley and Fran Morris in collaboration with SENSE and with help from panelists ran a ‘Not Another Wellbeing Workshop’.

The session consisted of an introduction (Powerpoint can be accessed here) followed by two
panel discussions. The first panel focused on mental health issues as a PGR and the second
tips and tricks about how to manage your mental health. Finally, the University of Leeds
Counselling and Wellbeing Service outlined some of the support they can offer. After the event
the powerpoint with collated resources for both the University of Leeds and Edinburgh were
circulated as well as two further coffee breaks later in the week for if attendees wish to continue
discussions.


Padlets were used to identify key themes for the panels and allow questions to be asked
anonymously. These will remain live:

This was the first attempt at this kind of event and as such relied on volunteers coming forward
to be on the panel as such it resulted in a panel of people who were all white women.
There were 50 people present (42 attendees, 5 panelists, 1 chair, 2 support staff).
The mental health issues discussed by the panel included anxiety, depression, eating disorders,
mood disorders, neurodivergence, chronic illness, bereavment, suicide and stress.


Statistics from polls and the feedback form:
● 90 % of attendees have struggled with their mental health as a PGR with the remaining
10 % uncertain.
● A third of attendees had taken time out of their research because of their mental health.
● 100 % of attendees found the workshop useful.
● 95 % of attendees would like similar events to run more regularly, with the remaining 5 %
not sure.
● 56 % of responses felt the workshop very much helped them empathise with those who
have struggled with their mental health and 44 % helped them.
● 45 % felt they had learnt many ways to help colleagues with their mental health and 33
% learnt a few ways to help.
● 63 % felt their mental health struggles were very much reflected by the panel.


Feedback:
Parts of the session people particularly enjoyed:

● The honesty and openness of the panel
● Having a variety of career stages represented especially those who have completed their
PhD.
● Candidness about the issues of the academic system and what hadn’t helped them.
● The range of experiences covered by the panel.

“The honesty throughout the whole session”

“I really appreciated how open the panel were with their experiences, it was very
refreshing to hear PGRs and those beyond PhD talk about their own mental health. After
attending the workshop I feel so much less alone and like my feelings have been
validated. The resources and suggestions I will take away from the session will really
help me, and I look forward to continuing the conversation.”

“Hearing an honest reflection of how people felt I thought having Rachel on the panel
was very helpful as she had the perspective of someone at a different stage of her
career”

“Panel sharing their own experience, the range of experience in the panel and seeing
people at different career points talking about mental health”

“I liked how brutally honest the panellists were about what hadn’t been helpful and their
annoyances with many of the systems in place”

“I liked how open and frank it was”

“Hearing others’ experiences was really interesting”


Topics they would like to be seen in future events:
● More discussion/help/tips on asking for help with both supervisors, support staff and
peers.
● More about University of Edinburgh resources and how this compares to the University
of Leeds.

“Not that I can think of”

“It would be good to hear more about the UoE support and services and how these
compare to what is on offer at Leeds”

“I think a good range of topics were covered, I can’t think of any of interest that were not
addressed”

“More discussion/help/tips on having conversations asking for help. Ways to approach
people when struggling to reach out, maybe in terms of asking supervisors or peers.”


Improvements for future sessions:
● Panellists with more diverse backgrounds and experiences including parents and
part-time students.
● Collating some of this knowledge into a handbook or added to current ones
● More similar events.

“I think collating some of this knowledge to be included in student handbooks would be
helpful”

“Include panel members with diverse backgrounds and experiences (as they noted).
Including parents doing PhD’s and part-time students.”

“I would like to see more similar events!”


Key themes and issues that arose from mental health panel session and padlets:


● The pandemic, lack of additional resources for example funding has led to additional
stress. The communication from management has been hostile and it’s been difficult to
integrate into the department.
● Loneliness and isolation, especially with working from home for the past year.
● The stigma and judgement associated with being diagnosed with a mental health issue.
● Lack of accountability in the academic structure for unacceptable views and comments
around mental health.
● Advocating for yourself is really hard and often is the only way to get help.
● The academic system being elitist, ableist, racist, sexist and often discriminatory. There
is a general feeling of not belonging.There was a lot of feedback that by just
acknowledging these issues the feelings and struggles of attendees were validated.
● Imposter syndrome is very prominent.
● The workload and culture of overwork. Lack of role models above you with a good work
life balance. Also, lack of transparency about how many hours you should work.
● Motivation, it’s difficult maintaining a steady pace particularly when so much is going on
in the world.
● The burden of educating on issues that affect you often falls on those most affected with
no compensation.
● PhDs can feel like your life is on pause whilst others around you are buying houses and
reaching milestones. There’s almost a silent expectation that a PhD should be your
whole life.
● Inaccessibility of information, whilst there is induction often this information gets lost.
There needs to be better information which is more intuitive to find. Also, clarity about
who to go to if you’re having issues that’s not just your supervisor.
● Issue of no maternity and sick leave, it leads to people working when they’re not well/
shouldn’t be because of time/financial pressures. This is also poorly communicated and
seems a lot of staff are unaware of the process/rules.
● Navigating that middle zone/grey area – are you staff or are you students? – greater
clarity needed here, and how you can access the right resources, i.e. student resources
are not always right, ditto staff ones.
● Some supervisors need to just be better, but how do we get them to engage, care, listen,
etc.
● Perfectionism and how difficult it is to gauge how well you’re doing.
● The low pay and lack of worker rights leads to feeling undervalued.
● It is easy to become overwhelmed and difficult to know what to focus on.
● There is a big power dynamic issue with supervisors having a big impact on your future
career which often results in people hiding or masking their issues.
● The uncertainty of what’s next after PhD/Postdocs is highly stressful to many.

Key themes and issues that arose from tips and tricks panel session and padlets:


● Having more than one thing that helps you is really important. For instance, exercise is
great but what if you break your leg and then can’t.
● What works for one person may not work for another.
● Depending on where you are on your mental health journey different things will help.
● A coping mechanism can become unhealthy if used too much.
● It is okay to feel the way you do.
● The importance of trying to access help before reaching crisis point and investing into
yourself when you’re on the upswing.
● The best thing to do if you think someone is struggling is to check in, ask if they’re okay
and offer to be there for them. However, you need to understand that you may not be the
person they want to confide in but just saying you’re there if they need you does a lot.
● You don’t have to disclose everything. You can just share that you’re struggling a bit at
the moment and don’t go into specifics.
● It’s okay to not have the answer. A lot of the time the person themselves won’t know
what will help. Just by giving space to share concerns can be enough.
● Toxic positivity doesn’t help anyone and often adds to the guilt that comes with having a
mental health issue. The ‘someone has it worse’ narrative doesn’t help anyone.
● Medication isn’t always the answer but can be really helpful. There are many different
ones so you may have to try a few to find one that works for you.


Takeaways/thoughts:


● Acknowledging the issues of the academic system, not just adding another wellbeing
session validated attendees experiences and brought comfort that they’re not alone. The
university messaging often comes across as selling the wellbeing sessions as the fix to
everything when in reality there is only so much resilience you can build.
● Support and set expectations to have a life/work balance for students and colleagues.
Clarity on expected working hours and how many days you should take for holiday as a
minimum. Reassessing workload allocations/expectations.
● More clarity about who to go to if you have issues with your supervisor and they also
need to be approachable.
● A minimum requirement of supervisors to know what to do/where to point people if
someones struggling and what the process is to pause or move to part time PhD.
● Supervisors don’t have to/shouldn’t be your only source of advice and help but clarity
about who else you can go to and services. This at a minimum could be sharing the
PowerPoint from the workshop.
● There is an appetite for support networks/community among PGRs focusing on mental
health and struggles as unique to PGRs.
● More regular events, like this workshop, to come together and discuss mental health and
the issues in academia, especially for first years starting remotely.
● Working towards creating a culture where people feel comfortable disclosing about their
mental health issues if they wish to but also aren’t obligated.
● More transparency from people further through academia, if they’re comfortable, about
their experiences with mental health/struggles. Anonymous survey of staff’s attitudes
and experiences with mental health. The PGRs surveys and workshop has given us a
variety of statistics to report and a gauge of attitudes in the population. There are a lot of
assumptions that more senior staff (PGR+) may be less receptive and understanding of
mental health. It would be useful to know if this is representative or not
● Moving away from minority communities having to invest extra time to educate on issues
with all the associated work falling on them without compensation.
● To encourage openness Mental health in academia posters could be placed around the
buildings and included in welcome information.
● Consider incorporating active bystander training which teaches you how to respond in a
safe non-confrontational way towards any type of inappropriate behaviour or
discrimination.


Questions asked at the panels:


Panel 1
• What do you think it is about the academic environment that causes a toll on mental health of
PhD students at large?
• Have any experiences of events during your PhD which affected your mental health?
• Do you have any thoughts on the classification as PGRs as sometimes students and
sometimes staff?
• [to panelist who’s finished their PhD and Postdoc and now works in a research lab] Do you
have any reflections on these experiences looking back on your PhD?
• Do you ever have days where you feel like you get nothing done? (also touched on How do
you deal with guilt associated with taking time off?)
• Have you ever thought of quitting your PhD, and if so why did you choose to stay in
academia?


Panel 2
• When you’re dealing with poor mental health, what do you do in the moment to help you cope
with a crisis?
• What have you done in the long term to develop strategies to cope with mental health
struggles?
• How do you deal with isolation, especially currently?
• How do you talk to your friends about mental health without feeling
• How do you talk to supervisors about being overworked?
• How do you deal with supervisors who are unsupportive about mental health?
• What’s the worst thing that someone can say to you when you’re struggling with mental health
/ What are some ways that you can support your colleagues with mental health?

SENSE REP’s Iceland Experience

Hannah Barnett did a Research Experience Placement funded by NERC through SENSE in the summer of 2021, working with Duncan Quincy and Liam Taylor at the University of Leeds. As part of this, Hannah went to Iceland to collect data. Here is her blog of her trip:

 My Iceland Experience

As part of my SENSE Research Experience Placement (REP), I was lucky enough to be asked if I would like to accompany my placement supervisors (Liam Taylor and Professor Duncan Quincey from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds) to Iceland, to help collect some data for Liam’s PhD.

My first job was surveying a range of potential secondary study sites, to identify which would be more appropriate for testing the range of a sensor. This involved travelling to 6 glaciers with a range of different sizes, gradients and terminus types (e.g. proglacial lake terminating). At each of these sites, we estimated the distance to the terminus of the glacier and the height of the face, took photos from a range of angles and locations, and recorded a description of the area. This information was then presented to Liam at the campsite, allowing him to make an informed decision about where to test the sensor. I was also able to help Liam more directly, by taking GPS measurements and recording the photo IDs associated with each location he chose. Back at the campsite I wrote this up, along with the data from other days, into a central space.

Whilst Liam was collecting his data, I was able to collect some of my own. I trialled structure from motion (SfM) –  I learned the theory of this technique in my degree but never had the chance to put it into practice. SfM uses photogrammetry, matching overlapping points from a series of photos to create a model. I used my camera to take approximately 250 photos of the calving face of Fjallsjökull from a range of angles. When I returned to Exeter, I uploaded these into a SfM software, and created a series of point clouds and mesh to produce a textured 3D model of the glacier terminus. The first result of this is shown in the figure below. I really enjoyed trialling SfM, it is an accessible technique with a range of applications and I am sure I will use it throughout the rest of my degree.


Figure 1 | The 3D model of Fjallsjökull produced from my Structure from Motion survey, with two particularly clear sections of the face highlighted and showcased below

I had never seen a glacier before, but thanks to this trip I even got to walk on one! I learnt how to put crampons on correctly and how to hold an ice axe. We climbed across moraines (large sediment ridges) to reach the glacier and from there navigated our way along the crevasses.  The section of the glacier we were on was debris-covered, although you can see sections of clean ice in crevasses in the photo (to the left). Whilst glacier walking, we also discussed the basic processes and mechanisms of glaciers, as well as remote and in-field techniques used to measure mass balance and flow velocity. This allowed me to revisit my cryosphere knowledge from first year and build upon it, seeing many features resulting from these processes in person!

I really enjoyed my time in Iceland, it was incredible to see in-person the landscapes I have been studying all summer in my REP. I can’t thank SENSE, my supervisors and the School of Geography at the University of Leeds enough for giving me this opportunity, and I hope it might inspire future REP interns to apply!

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