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SENSE Spotlight – Emily Dowd

Name: Emily Dowd

Institution: University of Leeds

PhD Project title: Detection and quantification of local methane sources using novel high-resolution satellite data

Emily Dowd stood with rolling hills behind her and the SENSE EDI logo.

What is your background?

I am a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Leeds on the SENSE CDT. My PhD focuses on atmospheric methane which is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas in our atmosphere after carbon dioxide. Before starting my PhD, I completed an MPhys Physics with Meteorology degree at the University of Edinburgh and worked as an Offshore Meteorologist in Aberdeen. It was my lifelong goal to be a meteorologist after I graduated, and I was thrilled to get the position in Aberdeen. After working there for a while, I decided I wanted to do a more project-based job and started looking for opportunities. Then I came across this project on the SENSE CDT, which felt like it was written for me. When I was at university, I thought that getting a PhD position was out of my reach because I struggled with taking exams, but I worked hard and got my degree. To be honest, the best bit about my undergraduate degree was doing the research project. The research project was on atmospheric methane and is probably the reason why I’m here doing this project.

I am also one of the co-founders of SatSchool which is an Earth Observation outreach programme aimed at 11-15 year olds. The aim of SatSchool is to introduce key earth observation concepts to students across the UK and as well as highlighting STEM career pathways into the Earth Observation field. The project has already reached 200+ students across the UK and we are aiming to reach many more in the future, particularly those lower income schools to broaden their horizons. I believe that being a visible role model in this field is valuable in order to show students that they too can work in the space sector.

Tell us about your project and the area of environmental science are you most excited about?

My PhD project focuses on investigating local and global atmospheric methane using satellite data and a chemical transport model. Atmospheric methane is the second most important greenhouse gas in our atmosphere after carbon dioxide. Global concentrations of methane have been rising since the 1980s, with a stagnation in growth between 1999 and 2006.  Also, in 2020 and 2021 we saw the largest global annual increases in methane concentrations on record. However, our understanding of what is driving the global trends of methane remains incomplete. This is partly due to the lack of long-term observational coverage in regions of large and variable methane emissions making it difficult to fully understand what is driving these changes.

This global map shows the annual increase of methane emissions relative to the global mean annual increase and has been created using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite (ESA, 2020)

In 2017, Sentinel 5P was launched with the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on board. TROPOMI provides near global coverage of methane concentrations daily and had a ground pixel of 3.5km x 7km which is a big improvement on the previous satellites, such as GOSAT. GOSAT provides global coverage of methane concentrations every 3 days and has a ground pixel 10km x 10km. TROPOMI allows us to view methane in a way that has not been done before.

I have been using TROPOMI observations to investigate the large rise in global methane during 2020 and my work on this so far can be found on the ESA Webportal.

Methane is an incredibly interesting field to be working in just now with the methane pledge at COP26 and the advancement of satellite technology allowing us to monitor changes in methane. In addition to TROPOMI, GHGSat can monitor anthropogenic methane emissions at 25m resolution allowing scientists to pinpoint large emissions at the source. I think the combination of TROPOMI and GHGSat is the key to help reduce anthropogenic methane emissions, which is super exciting.

Was using satellite data at the core of your PhD project important to you?

I did not know much about Earth Observation until towards the end of my undergraduate degree. Even then, the importance of Earth Observation wasn’t entirely clear to me until I started my PhD. Satellite data is incredibly useful as it allows us to observe the earth daily and investigate changes in regions which are difficult to access and measure. For example, the largest and most variable source of methane are wetlands, and these are often in places which are difficult to access so satellites help us to observe changes over these regions.

Why did you decide to enter the space sector?

I don’t think I made a conscious decision to join the space sector, it wasn’t a career pathway I had considered. My PhD project has completely changed this and after my PhD I would consider staying in research, using Earth Observation data, or working in the space sector.

Emily Dowd stood infront of a scale model of Sentinel-5P as the European Space Agency Living Planet Symposium 2022.

What does equity, diversity and inclusion mean to you?

It is very important for everyone to bring their whole selves to work as it builds the foundation of an inclusive environment for people to work in. It also can make way for new perspectives, research ideas and collaborations, which are crucial for making advances in science.

What are your hopes for future PhD students?  

I hope that there will be better diversity in mentors and supervisors for future PhD students. I also hope that PhD students will be treated like employees at the university to remove the blurred lines between being treated as a student and researcher. Finally, I hope that future PhD students will be given the same opportunities I have been given during my PhD so far as the SENSE CDT has allow me to network with both academia and industry in a way that other students might not have the opportunity to.

Any tips for those interested in applying for PhDs?   

My advice for those applying for a PhD is to make sure you are interested in the topic and are able to show in interviews why you find the topic interesting. I would also suggest meeting with supervisors on the project to get to know who you are going to be working with and gain a better understanding of the project you are applying for.

Find out more about some of Emily’s work here.

Find out more about SatSchool here.

SatSchool Launches the Classroom into Space

On 6th April the SatSchool outreach project was launched at a hybrid meeting, showcasing the results of the team’s hard work over the past six months to put this fantastic program together. SENSE students and outreach representatives from each of our institutes, as well as from NERC, ESERO-UK, UKSA and IRIS were all in attendance. 

SatSchool is a high quality school outreach program which aims to introduce Earth Observation (EO) concepts to 11-15 year old (KS3/S1-S3) pupils, highlighting the relevance of school subjects in EO and future STEM career pathways.  We have developed 12+ hours of engaging classroom resources in collaboration with teachers to ensure they are closely tied to the UK school curriculum. Pupils will have the chance to learn about satellites and how we use them to study the Earth from space, as well as getting hands on with some EO data! 

The outreach package also aims to ease the pressure on EO experts when doing outreach as the SatSchool materials are ready to take into the classroom. We have established a network of EO Ambassadors based in Edinburgh, Leeds, Southampton and Cambridge who can take these resources into schools and act as role models to inspire the next generation of EO experts. We hope this network will expand in the future!

The program contains six different modules, each with cross-curricular links across six STEM subjects:

  • Introduction to Earth Observation (Physics / Geography)
  • Hands on with Data (Computer Science / Maths / Geography)
  • Cryosphere (Geography / Maths / Physics) 
  • Biosphere (Biology / Geography) 
  • Atmosphere (Chemistry / Geography / Physics) 
  • Oceans (Geography / Biology / Physics)

Each module contains an introductory presentation to the subject which the presenter can use to introduce the topic. It also contains a self-guided ArcGIS StoryMap where students can work through the activities on a laptop/tablet/smartphone or it can be led through by a single presenter. The modules have worksheets for pupils to complete whilst doing the activities to keep them focused, as well as a  guide for the presenters on how to run the session. The sessions run between 30-60 minutes and activities can be adapted to the kind of session you want to run or you can follow the lesson plan provided. 

Calum Hoad and Sol White presenting the Intro to EO module at Bathgate Academy on 16th March 2022.

On March 16th we ran a successful first SatSchool visit to Bathgate Academy, where we trialled the Intro to EO module to two classes of S3 pupils. Co-founder Calum Hoad and Module Leader Sol White presented the module to two classes and the resources were well received. We are hoping to roll out SatSchool to more schools in the near future.

SatSchool team members Emily Dowd, Bryony Freer and Morag Fotheringham presenting our SatSchool poster on the final day of ESA’s Living Planet Symposium in Bonn, Germany. May 2022.

The SatSchool team was grateful for the opportunity to present a poster of the outreach project at the European Space Agency’s Living Planet Symposium in Bonn, Germany during May 2022. It was a really great opportunity for us to share SatSchool with an audience outside the UK and people were excited by the resources. We hope that the exposure at Living Planet will help to expand our EO Ambassador network and reach more schools.

Finally we would like to thank a lot of people for their support in their project. These include: 

  • NERC for awarding us an ‘Engaging the Public with Environmental Science’ grant
  • The SENSE CDT for their support in the project.  
  • ESERO-UK for their guidance, outreach training and putting us in contact with the Ogden Trust. 
  • The Ogden Trust and Chipping Campden School for arranging and taking part in the teacher workshop. 
  • IRIS & Bathgate Academy for the school visit
  • Space Hub Yorkshire for the extra funding to help advertise SatSchool
  • The SatSchool Team for all their hard work

You can explore the modules and find out more about the project on our website: 

You can also follow us on Twitter @SatSchool_ or email us

SENSE Students Win Funding For SatSchool

Four second year SENSE CDT researchers (Bryony Freer, Emily Dowd, Calum Hoad and Morag Fotheringham) have won National Environment Research Council (NERC) funding for their proposed outreach project “SatSchool”. This bid was made as part of a wider NERC initiative to engage the public with environmental sciences.

The project aims to create a high-quality school outreach package consisting of a general introduction to Earth Observation and five specialised modules – Getting Hands on with Data, Atmosphere, Oceans, Cryosphere and Biosphere. SatSchool will highlight the cross-curricular nature of environmental science and STEM careers, address the digital skills agenda and promote NERC science highlights. 

SatSchool will run in two phases. The first phase is the funded development of SatSchool between now and March 2022. SENSE PhD students will use their expertise to build the outreach modules by creating new resources and collating existing ones. Consultation with a high school teacher will then allow the modules to be tailored to the school curriculum. We have also partnered with ESERO-UK, who will aid in the development of materials and contribute to outreach training for SENSE PhD students. This collaboration means SatSchool will contribute to ESERO-UK’s One Million Interactions initiative.

After March 2022, SENSE students will use the resources and guidance developed by SatSchool to deliver outreach throughout their PhDs. The preparation time and stress associated with school outreach visits will be reduced, while allowing the delivered outreach to be consistent and of high-quality. SatSchool should empower SENSE students to become role models for the next generation of Earth Observation Scientists.