PhD centre will nurture new leaders in Earth observation


A new centre will enable 50 fully-funded PhD researchers to harness satellite data to tackle global environmental challenges.

The Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science (SENSE) will bring together expertise in satellite remote sensing, climate change, and advanced data science to nurture the next generation of Earth observation researchers.

Through a £2.2m investment from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), support from the UK Space Agency, and a further £3.4m of matched funding, SENSE will create 50 new PhD studentships over the next 3-years.

This new centre combines industry engagement and world-leading research facilities to train a new cohort of Earth observation leaders with the expertise and knowledge to address Earth System challenges, such as changes in global temperature and the growing strain on natural resources.

Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said: "The researchers will support cutting-edge scientific discovery, new data-based products and new Earth observation technologies that will provide benefits to society.

"Working with the UK Space Agency gives students unique opportunities to engage with the wider community."

The Namib Desert, viewed by Koreas Kompsat-2 satellite. Credit: KARI/ESA

EThe Namib Desert, viewed by Koreas Kompsat-2 satellitenvironmental and data science

SENSE students will be based in sector-leading UK research institutions: the University of Leeds, The University of Edinburgh, The National Oceanography Centre, or British Antarctic Survey.

The comprehensive training programme will provide all first year PhD students with advanced skills training in Earth observation systems and techniques, and advanced data science methods such as artificial intelligence.

Through SENSE we have a fantastic opportunity to grow the community of researchers with the skills and knowledge to measure how our environment is changing.

Dr Anna Hogg, Centre co-director, University of Leeds

Dr Anna Hogg is co-director of the centre and is a University Academic Fellow in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds.

She said: “Earth observation satellites collect hundreds of terabytes of data per day, delivering important information about how fast glaciers flow, the size of forest fires in the Amazon, and the quality of the air that we breathe.

“Through SENSE we have a fantastic opportunity to grow the community of researchers with the skills and knowledge to measure how our environment is changing.”

Dr Edward Mitchard, centre leader at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are looking for outstanding candidates from environmental science, maths, physics, engineering and computer science disciplines to undertake a PhD in this exciting and innovative centre.

“The students will belong to a happy, inclusive and stimulating research environment, with supervision from world-leading earth observation scientists.”

Sentinel-1 amplitude image of ship tracks in the English Channel.Sentinel-1 amplitude image of ship tracks in the English Channel. Credit: ESA

Key partnerships

At the core of the centre are integral partnerships with world-renowned research institutes such as the Met Office and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, industry leaders and international space agencies including European Space Agency (ESA), The German Aerospace Center (DLR) and NASA.

The National Oceanography Centre, a leader in marine science research, and the British Antarctic Survey, the UK’s principal centre for research in polar regions, will host SENSE PhD students and provide key training.

Professor Christine Gommenginger from the National Oceanography Centre said: “International space agencies such as ESA have collected the best satellite data in the world for decades now, providing long term climate data records through which we can study how the planet is changing.

“SENSE PhD students will have a brilliant opportunity to pursue a meaningful career in science that discovers new information about the way the world works.” 

University of Leeds students in computer lab

Credit: University of Leeds

Each student will have the opportunity to collaborate closely with the space and environmental science industry, through CASE partnerships and 3-month funded industry placements, where they will obtain first-hand experience of research careers outside the academic environment.

Richard Tipper, Executive Chairman of Ecometrica, a CASE partner and fast-growing space data company, said: "Ecometrica welcomes this important development. We have employed and collaborated with a number of Edinburgh University Earth Observation researchers at doctoral and post-doctoral levels over the past 10 years, and expect this trajectory to increase thanks to the SENSE centre."

Recruitment is now open for the first cohort for The Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science (SENSE).

Further information

Top image: Tropical peatland in the Congo, observed by satellites. Credit: Dr Edward Mitchard, University of Edinburgh

Hear news and updates on the SENSE Earth Observation CDT by following @EoCdt

For interviews or further information please contact University of Leeds press officer Anna Harrison on or +44(0)113 343 403