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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!