In May 2022 SENSE cohort 1 and 2 students made their way to Firbush the University of Edinburgh outdoor centre near Killin in Stirlingshire for a week of field skills training. This is part of the core training for the CDT students which due to Covid had been delayed on several occasions.
Although most of our students use satellite data for their research collecting ‘ground truth data’ in the field is an important part of research as it can be used to validate satellite data in gaining a better understanding of the area being analysed.
As team SENSE headed north spirits were high as this was going to be the first time all together as a full group and everyone was looking forward to spending time together and getting to know each other properly.
After settling into the centre and trying out some watersports on Loch Tay the group were ready to start out activities which were led by staff from the school of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh.
Drone operation was led by Tom Wade (Airborne Geoscience) and Liz Poulsom (E4 DTP) who explained the risk assessment required for flying drones, discussed planning missions and gave practical demonstrations. There is a lot to consider when flying drones and everyone was surprised how much you have to consider including informing the military who may be using the area for operations. Once the safety aspect sorted then it was time to fly and the students all managed to have a shot of the smaller drones and some even got experience of the larger more complex ones (while avoiding the pesky fishermen).
The group were joined by Jack Gillespie from the NERC Field Spectroscopy Facility. Field spectroscopy relates to the measurement of the optical characteristics of a surface and provides quantitative measurements of radiance, irradiance, reflectance or transmission. Analysis of specific areas of the spectral data can infer properties of the sample material, and various indices exist to quantify various parameters. Jack had brought some of the portable equipment used by the unit and the students had a great time looking at different spectral properties of things they could find around the site. The FSF facility lends out spectroscopy equipment to the research community and some of which is carried on drones and Jack had brought along some of the equipment to show us including the headwall camera.
The third activity was forest inventory and tree measuring with Dr Ian Davenport and Wequan Dong from the Mitchard research group. Forest survey is used in calculating the biomass of a forest and is important in validating satellite data although often in exotic locations than a Scottish forest. Ian also shared some work he had carried out using Lidar on a fixed wing UV looking at peat in the Congo forests.
The final activity was a walk up Creag Buidhe a nearby hill overlooking Loch Tay where we were able to discuss the forestry around the area and find out more about the history of the area from the Firbush staff including hydro schemes and crannogs. It was quite a steep walk but more than worth it for the amazing views and also the chance to take a drone selfie thanks to SENSE student Sam Bancroft.
As well as the training activities the students were able to take advantage of the excellent facilities at Firbush and enjoy cycling, walking, football, windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and swimming in the loch. Evenings involved games, a quiz and a taskmaster event as well as time to chat and get to know each other. With conferences coming up there was also time to work on talks and posters and it the first chance for the full team for Sat School our amazing outreach programme to celebrate their hard work (and model the very cool Satschool t shirts).
Cohort building is very important within SENSE as forming professional and personal bonds during their PhD will be essential to our students as they continue their journeys in science and the group took full advantage of this week to do that.
Thank you so much to the Tom, Jack, Liz, Ian, Dong, Eleanor and the Firbush staff for making this such a memorable trip. It was an amazing week with lots of fun and memories made and the group look forward to getting together again soon.