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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

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 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

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

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

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:

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:

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: 

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: 

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.

Industry Symposium 2021

Earlier this week SENSE held its first Industry Symposium. SENSE is really proud of its industry links, which give our students a network of industry professions as well as academics to aid their future careers, whether that be in academia, industry, the public sector, journalism and more.

Throughout the day the event had over 70 participants, with at least 40 participants from industry, including CASE partners, funders and government organisations.

Professor Ed Mitchard, SENSE co-director, introduced SENSE, which currently has 17 students with 15 more starting in October. These students cover broad topics – cryosphere, atmosphere, weather, space weather, vegetation, oceanography, ecology and crops – and use data from at least twenty types of Earth Observation satellites. Ed commented that all the SENSE students are using a common toolkit in terms of advanced data techniques, but the applications are very diverse.  This is why SENSE is able to interact with such a wide range of industries.

SENSE is funded by NERC (Natural Environmental Research Council), which is matched by funding from University of Edinburgh and University of Leeds, and additionally from the UKSA (UK Space Agency). Beth Greenaway from UKSA laid out the UK’s vision to maximise the potential of Earth Observation by 2040. In order to maximise this potential, Beth noted that it’s essential to have people that understand the data and can use it to solve environmental problems – ‘if we’re going to have a thriving Earth Observation industry in the UK we need you to come and work in it!’. Andy Lloyd from NERC placed SENSE in the research council landscape, and explained that the call for SENSE’s funding arose because Earth Observation was identified a particular priority area that was not being addressed. Their skills gap survey showed that data is being underutilised and that the potential benefits were significant, with a barrier to this being the lack of trained people to use this data. Andy introduced CASE partnership, in which an industry can partner a particular project. This involves financial commitment (£1k per year), co-supervision and the student undertakes a 3-month internship during their 2nd year. ‘Through CASE partnerships we see mutual beneficial relationship. Putting in time and a small amount of funding, but also getting something back in terms of time and expertise from a really good student’.

In the next session, three students from SENSE’s first cohort presented their projects and their links to industry partners. Sam Bancroft commented that Unilever as a company is working on some similar topics to his project, and so there are lots of conversations that they can have and ideas that can move between them. Emily Dowd was looking forward to seeing how her collaboration with the MetOffice will pan out, and the benefits to both her PhD and the MetOffice in comparing models to understand which work better in different scenarios. Morag Fotheringham was looking forward to her placement with EarthWave, and thinking about which of their interesting projects she may be able to get involved with.

“After having worked in the UK Earth Observation sector prior to starting my project, I recognised the importance of an industry symposium. It was rewarding to engage with industry, share ideas, and be reminded of the usefulness of my work to those outside academia. As a result of today I hope to have opened lines of enquiry with partners in order to foster new collaborations and share data.”

– Sam Bancroft

Four of SENSE’s CASE partners gave introductions to their industry and how they work with SENSE. Murray Collins, who co-founded Space Intelligence, was looking forward to working with SENSE students and ‘getting brain power into the company, as well as shaping the brain power of the future’. Samantha Lavender who co-founded Pixalytics, spoke about her personal experience of choosing a PhD with a CASE partner because she felt it would benefit her future career, and that as an academic she saw the benefits of supervising students with CASE partners. For Sam, through CASE partnership Pixalytics can support the uptake and usage of Earth Observation data, and support the next generation while being involved in interesting science. Hina Khan from Spire, which has a fleet of over 125 nanosatellites built in Glasgow, reported how Spire is excited to work with SENSE because of its focus on Earth Observation and data anlyatics, which are two areas Spire at combining to enhance their capabilities. The MetOffice is the largest CASE partner of SENSE students and in Fiona O’Connor’s presentation she reported that the MetOffice are keen to be contributing to national capability, particularly fostering upcoming scientists and developing new expertise. Fiona is very pleased to have a CASE student starting in October this year, in a project with Ruth Doherty at Edinburgh.

Christine Gommenginger, who is the National Oceanography Centre representative on SENSE’s Management committee, presented in a keynote her experience as being a PI (principal investigator) on an Earth Explorer Mission. Becoming a satellite mission PI is the ultimate achievement in Earth Observation, and Christine wanted to pass a message to the current students ‘in the end we only regret we chances we didn’t take’. The process is long, competitive an uncertain, but with a good idea, a strong relationship between science and industry as well as passion, grit and luck, they could be mission PIs in the future.

At the roundtable discussion, Tom Doyle (NERC, digital environments senior programme manager), Dan Wicks (Head of Earth Observation at Satellite Applications Catapult), Kathie Bowden (UKSA lead on space skills and careers) and Ian Downey (ESA Space Solutions Business Applications UK Ambassador Platform) discussed space skills in the UK.

On the topic of the skills gap in the UK space sector, the UKSA Space Sector Skills Survey 2020: Research Report identifies the value of high-level training, because there will always be a need of people who have that extra level of knowledge and expertise, which Kathie feels is why SENSE’s connection between industry and academia is so powerful. Ian added the need for soft skills and rounded experience including entrepreneurship, project management and stakeholder relationship building, as well as technical excellence. On this note, Kathie shared her interest in ESA’s pilot scheme to bring in business students into programmes, to add different skills. Dan pointed out that the market is evolving rapidly and how essential it is to take the traditional knowledge of Earth Observation and put it in the context of the latest market status, to ensure the next generation of Earth Observation scientists are ready to play into this market – or even create the roles, Anna added. Tom shared that he thought SENSE has a role going forward to show the impact of these studentships to evidence the priority of similar training programmes in the future.

Discussing bridging the gap between academia and industry, Dan believes that it can be really difficult for a businesses to access expertise that sits in academia, and through formal collaboration with a programme such as SENSE students can be embedded within businesses to foster a more flexible, collaborative approach. Kathie feels that development of networks is key, and that SENSE’s networks and events like this industry symposium will become more and more important, and taking advantage of virtual events. Tom added that SENSE can have a key role in not only building but maintaining networks, which is a legacy that will continue. Ian often finds companies can have a 10 year old perspective on what space can offer, so he encourages collaborations with programmes like SENSE for aspiring companies to engage in this sector, as a low risk way to access the most current knowledge and expertise. Kathie discussed that industries often struggle to not only find skills they need, but also train their own people, which is a gap in which SENSE could potentially offer lectures or short courses, and Dan noted that in turn this could help drive research agendas.

To round up, Anna asked what are the opportunities for the fantastic community of students, academics and industry partners that SENSE have built up have, to play a leading role in the UK landscape. Ian shared that he was ‘thrilled to bits’ when SENSE was set up, with 50 new students coming through with the skill sets required to address national and global issues. Dan believes there is an increasing recognition within government of the role that space has to play in addressing many of its strategic interest, and Dan thinks that there are opportunities for SENSE to feed into this and drive the conversation. Kathie would like to see improved appreciation of the wide breadth of topics that ‘space’ covers – not just engineering and launching satellites – and instead of the ubiquitous nature of space data, and how it impacts daily life. Tom encouraged SENSE to make the most of space being really high on the political agenda, particularly on the environmental side.

For final advice for the students, Kathie urged them not to forget how transferable the skills that they are developing are, and to think about how they can use those skills in all sorts of different ways. Ian added that there is room for plenty more women in the space industry. Dan stressed to the students to not underestimate cross-disciplinary collaboration during a PhD, and to learn from others and take every opportunity to embed yourselves with those collaborations, whether it’s with industry partners or other sort of science disciplines, because that’s where that’s where the real sort of interesting kind innovations come from. Tom added they’re happy to link to other parts of UKRI.

Anna summarised that she felt it was fantastic to see what an important role SENSE and the SENSE students have in the development of national capability. It may be easy to forget when you’re a PhD researcher working on your own topic that you’re part of a bigger picture, and Anna is excited by the people involved in SENSE because they’re doing great things already, and can’t wait to see how they develop and how their careers pan out as we go forward.

After lunch, the students had a virtual poster session. This was held on the virtual platform ‘Remo’, where the students sat at ‘tables’ and shared their posters with anyone who came to sit at their table. For many this was their first opportunity to present their PhD, and many reported having useful and inspiring conversations.

Thanks to all who attended SENSE’s first industry symposium, we look forward to the next.

Are you an industry partner and would like to be involved with SENSE? Email Ruth Amey ( or Eleanor Graham ( and we would be happy to discuss potential collabirations. As Ian Downey (ESA Space Solutions Business Applications UK Ambassador Platform) noted in the round table discussion, there are many companies from outside the traditional space domains, for example software systems and AI modelling, that are core to the space sector, and we would be really keen to engage with.

Girls just wanna have fun(ding for their scientific research)

Last week was International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11th of February). The SENSE CDT students ran a hugely successful twitter takeover, you can read it in full below.

Hello! Emily, Bryony and Sophie here. We are some of the first cohort students on the SENSE CDT and today we are taking over the twitter feed to celebrate UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We will be highlighting past and present women scientists who work with or inspire the current SENSE students.

First up, SENSE Student Sam (@spiruel) has been inspired by American scientist and inventor Dr Valerie Thomas, who in the 1970s played an important role in the launch of the Landsat programme. She started in NASA’s Landsat team in 1970 and quickly became the expert on data storage.

Nowadays, the success and subsequent open-access of Landsat data is seen as a major point in the history of Earth Observation – where it could be said that ESA’s Copernicus programme wouldn’t be as successful as it is now without the previous achievements of Landsat.

Additionally, Dr. Thomas oversaw the first successful demonstration of applying space-based remote sensing to global crop monitoring and headed a team of the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE) to predict wheat yield worldwide.

Her work links directly with Sam’s PhD project, where he is developing a new methodology for assessing future food production based on machine learning, remote sensing and crop models.

Earth Observation achievements aside, Dr. Thomas is also responsible for inventing the ‘illusion transmitter’ in 1980 – a technology that enabled the creation of modern-day MRI medical imaging. What a trailblazer for women and girls in science!

Katherine Johnson studied Mathematics and French at West Virginia State College in the US. Her historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist has been an inspiration to our resident SENSE mathematician Amber.

When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Johnson would talk about the calculations that helped sync Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle & early Landsat missions, and authored 26 research reports.

Katherine is depicted as a lead character in ‘Hidden Figures’, a 2016 film following the African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race.

Decades after the pioneering work of Dr. Thomas and Katherine Johnson, SENSE are keen to promote the work of the @LadiesofLandsat community, established as a way to connect fellow scientists who are gender and minority peers, offering a platform to reach out and chat about anything from finding research partners to starting a family. 

Now with over 5000 followers they are one of many growing online communities working to improve inclusivity in the geosciences. 

Founders @morganahcrowley & @katefickas believe that “by building up each other’s confidence and celebrating our wins, we lift, retain and attract women in the field”. SENSE students love all the work you do ‘spreading badassery with STEMinism’


#WomenWednesday is just one of the great initiatives run by @SistersofSAR, an inclusive online community for women in SAR at all stages of life, inspired by @LadiesofLandsat. With many SENSE students using SAR data on the daily, we’re here for everything you do!

Taking it right back to the 1800s, the pioneering paleontologist and fossil collector Mary Anning has been an inspiration for SENSE student Megan Udy and we’re sure many other Women in STEM.

Growing up on the Jurassic Coast, Mary’s father was an amateur fossil collector and taught her how to look for and clean fossils. This sparked her passion, and despite not having any formal education, she taught herself geology and anatomy.

The fact that Mary was a woman of poor background with no education led to the community being reluctant to recognise her work. Male scientists would often buy the fossils she found, which she had to sell to support her family, and pass them off as their own work.

The Geological Society of London refused to admit Mary, and continued to refuse to admit any women until 1904. She died at the age of 47, still in financial difficulty, with little recognition and not knowing the impact her finds had/will have on geology and palaeontology.

More recently a campaign (@MaryAnningRocks) was set up to create a permanent memorial in Anning’s hometown of Lyme Regis, with a statue set to be put up as a reminder of Mary’s discoveries in the region and her contribution to science.

Centuries after her death, Mary continues to inspire young girls to take an interest in science, as we will see with our next inspirational girl in STEM.

Born over three centuries after her hero Mary Anning, 11-year old Evie Swire started the campaign @MaryAnningRocks to raise money for the erection of a statue in Lyme Regis recognising the remarkable work of Mary Anning.  

The campaign believes that a visual celebration of Mary Anning’s incredible contributions to science is the perfect way to address the gender imbalance in STEM, to create an example, especially for our young women to follow. 

They hope that this statue will set in motion a wider debate, a discussion for all the forgotten women of history and their marginalised and forgotten contributions to the world we now all live in.

Evie is a fantastic role model for Girls in Science and has said that when she grows up she wants to go into outer space. We wonder if Evie has heard of Earth Observation? Maybe she could be a future SENSE student?!

SENSE student Eszter is proud of the Hungarian-born scientist Katalin Karikó. She developed the patent on which the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is based.

In 1985, she and her family emigrated to the US, hiding the money from the sale of their car in her daughter’s teddy bear. She reckons she would have been a mediocre scientist if she stayed in Hungary. Instead, she has persisted in her field and now a Nobel Prize isn’t off the table!

SENSE Student Nick Homer is inspired by Prof. Sarah Gilbert. She co-developed the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine with the Oxford Vaccine Group. This vaccine was developed in record time and is now one of the main vaccines being used against the disease around the world.

It is hoped that the vaccine will be valuable in reaching less developed parts of the world because, unlike the other vaccines, it can be stored at regular fridge temperature and is therefore much cheaper per dose. What an amazing, world-changing achievement!

Dr. Catherine Nakalembe is an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Maryland, USA and @NASAharvest Africa Lead. Her research uses remote sensing and machine learning to aid agriculture, foodsecurity and climate change.

She is a 2020 African Food Prize Laureate for improving the lives of farmers by harnessing satellitedata to guide agricultural decision-making. Her work aims to predict either drought or rainfall estimates, helping farmers plan and prepare.

Dr. Nakalembe grew up in Kampala, Uganda, never expecting to become an environmental scientist. The PhD programme as University of Maryland enabled her to learn about remote sensing while working in Uganda and around her home continent.

Dr. Nakalembe now mentors young black women to encourage them into environmental science. “In the diaspora, I go to meetings and I am the only one who looks like this. It feels lonely when it is a new country or space.”

Her work in utilising satellite data for land management is linked to a PhD project by SENSE’s Lucy Wells, who will research the response of savannas and dry forests to global change! Dr. Nakalembe is a great role model for women and girls worldwide

Dr. Chelle Gentemann (@ChelleGentemann) is currently a senior scientist at Farallon Institute advocating open science and inclusivity. Dr. Joellen Russell (@DeepBlueSeaNext) is a Professor at University of Arizona researching the ocean’s role in climate!

Both are PIs on upcoming NASA Earth mission proposals, if either are selected, they will be the first female in history to lead a NASA Earth Science Mission! What better role models than these two amazing oceanographers! Good luck from the students at SENSE!

Kimberley Bryant (@6Gems) is an electrical engineer and computer scientist from the US. She started a non-profit called @BlackGirlsCode in 2011, with the aim to introduce girls from underrepresented communities to computer programming.

The organisation has the goal to educate 1,000,000 black girls in programming by 2040. While not directly related to Earth Sciences, SENSE student Jacob Connolly thinks computer programming is vital for all our PhD projects in SENSE.

@BlackGirlsCode is a really important organisation for the next generations of scientists!

Conversations like this with @AlisonJ_Cook helped SENSE student Bryony Freer to see the possibility of a future career in Antarctic science, and is why she wants to highlight the amazing work of female lecturers and PhD students who continue to inspire the next generation of women in STEM.

The enthusiastic teaching and fieldwork experiences with @AntarcticPippa, @DrTashaBarlow, @AlisonJ_Cook, @AilsaGuild, @GeographyCris were particularly inspirational during her Geography degree at @GeogDurham.

And the incredible women of the #PCAS course at @GatewayAntarct1, including Daniela Liggett, @drmichellelarue, @UrsulaRack and Gemma Brett, who’ve helped prove there’s no limits to women working in Antarctic science.

Women now account for >50% of all STEM postgrads at UK universities, yet science faculties are still often very male-dominated at the senior level. So to all those female role-models out there working for gender equality in STEM, we appreciate everything you do!

Dr. Judith Wolf (@JudithWolfNOC) is a physical oceanographer based at National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, and a visiting professor at the Univesity of Liverpool. Her extensive career has involved developing and validating models to aid coastal impacts of climate change and tidal energy and is currently the supervisor to SENSE student Sophie Durston.

At the start of her career in 1976, all Dr. Wolf’s colleagues were men. Over time, she witnessed the gradual improvement to the present day where more than half the scientific staff are at National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool are women! For the first time, the NOC’s director of science is a woman: Prof Angela Hatton!

Recently, Dr. Wolf has been working on two projects, one based in the Caribbean and one in China, focussing on coastal climate change resilience and management in collaboration with local stakeholders!

“Having strong and empowering role models, like Judith, in a once male dominated field allowed me to believe that I could succeed with my PhD. I feel honoured to have Judith as a supervisor to inspire and guide me!” – Sophie Durston

Ruth is a co-supervisor for @emily_dowd_ on the SENSE CDT. She completed a PhD in Astrophysics but her focus shifted to the environment and went on to do an MSc in Environmental Science with a strong focus on climate change.

She specialises in atmospheric composition and air quality. She strives to carry out useful research so her focus is also on the health impact of air pollution. This work is very important when air pollution is responsible for 7.7% of world mortality.

In Ruth’s spare time she helps pupils at her local high school prepare for university interviews, inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Alice Marzocchi (@allygully), SENSE Student Phoebe’s supervisor, is currently in the Southern Ocean studying the impacts of the A68a iceberg. Make sure to look at some of her amazing photos! Her research, at National Oceanography Centre, has a focus on understanding understand climate dynamics.

Dr. Isla Myers-Smith (@IslaHMS) is a researcher and lecturer in Global Change Ecology at the University of Edinburgh. Through fieldwork, data science, big picture thinking and scientific collaboration, Isla’s work helps us understand the impact of climate change on Arctic tundra ecosystems.

Founded by Isla, @TeamShrub is a dynamic research group conducting a range of exciting Arctic science, using everything from teabags to drones! Many Team Shrub members are early career researchers, developing their scientific careers with Isla’s mentorship and encouragement.

Science communication is a key focus of Isla’s, as she works with organisations such as National Geographic and Wired UK to share her findings with society. Seeking novel and engaging methods of communication, she encourages conversation around climate change in the Arctic.

Listed in this year’s WIRED25, Isla contributes substantially to Arctic tundra research. Her science communication inspires and engages wide audiences with her work, while her mentorship enables next generation researchers. She is supervisor to Calum Hoad on the SENSE CDT.

SENSE Manager, @ruthamey, would like to highlight two brilliant women in science. Dr Laura Gregory (@theearthquakes) has endless enthusiasm and interest in anything earthquake and fault related, and is a friend and mentor to many aspiring scientists.

Ruth would also like to highlight Dr Sam Giles (@GilesPalaeoLab) for devoting significant time and effort into challenging the scientific community, to make science a better, fairer, more equal place (and for tweeting cool pictures of fossils).

The National Oceanography Centre manager for SENSE is Dr. Christine Gommenginger, a physical oceanographer who specialises in new and improved observations of the ocean from space!

In recognition of Dr. Gommenginger’s achievement in her field, remote sensing, she was awarded the title of Honorary Professorial Fellow from the University of Southampton!

Dr. Gommenginger’s impressive career features extensive multi-disciplinary collaborations across academia, industry, and government. Who better to help manage the SENSE CDT?

Helen Fricker is a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the director of Scripps Polar Center, San Diego. A prominent glaciologist, she has authored over 100 publications in the field of remote sensing of Antarctic ice shelves and active subglacial lakes.

Growing up in the UK, Helen attended @AGGSchool where her physics teacher Melissa Lord encouraged her onto a path to become a scientist. Mrs Lord must have been quite the inspirational figure, with the oceanographer @helenczerski also a talented kind graduate of her classroom!

In more recent years, Helen has played a central role in developing @NASA_Ice‘s ICESat and ICESat-2 laser altimetry missions, and we’re sure she will be an invaluable source of advice for SENSE student Bryony Freer who Helen is co-supervising on her ICESat-2 PhD with British Antarctic Survey.

At the end of 2020 @helenafricker received the ultimate honour a glaciologist could wish for, when an ice piedmont in Antarctica was named after her by @AntarcticNames. This marks decades of her pioneering satellite altimetry work on the continent! Congrats from all the SENSE family!

Our wonderful SENSE Co-Director Dr. Anna Hogg is an expert in Earth Observation and Associate Professor at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, where she uses satellite data to monitor remote ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

Dr. Hogg’s impressive career so far has included involvement in 17 international research projects funded by ESA (European Space Agency), NERC (National Environmental Research Council), UKSA (UK Space Agency) and NASA as well as participating in five major field campaigns in Antarctica and Greenland.

Without Anna’s enthusiasm for science and training the next generation of #EarthObservation experts, SENSE CDT may well not have even existed – so us students have a lot to be grateful for!!

To round up our takeover we wanted to highlight the current SENSE cohort! Currently 60% are women who are able to support and inspire each other across a wide range of topics but with one goal: to become experts in Earth Observation!