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UK satellite data to spearhead fight against climate change

The Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds have joined forces in a £5m government-backed programme to use satellite data to combat climate change

The government has announced investment in research analysing satellite images to better predict the impact of climate change in urban areas and inform future government action.

According to a joint statement from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and the UK Space Agency, a £5-6m satellite datacentre involving the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds will use satellite technology to combat climate change, including lowering the risk to people from flooding. The datacentre will bring together 50 PhD researchers from both institutions.

The Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science (SENSE), is described in the statement as a “virtual academic collaboration”.

It will have funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK Space Agency (UKSA), and work with 18 businesses, including Airbus and Unilever, who will co-fund, co-design and co-supervise 42 of the PhD research projects.

The centre will be funded by £2.3m funding over three years from NERC’s core grant with money from UK Space Agency for specific student activity support. This will be matched by £3.4m funding from commercial companies as well as the universities own funds.

Measurements from satellites on rising sea levels, greenhouse gases and shrinking glaciers and forests will, it is said, “help provide policy makers, government and industry with the data and knowledge they need to better understand the impact of climate change and make future predictions.

“This knowledge and data could lead to the adaptation of preventative measures for vulnerable areas such as installing flood defences to protect coastal towns, identifying areas increasingly at risk of flooding and monitoring pollution levels in towns and cities.”

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Anna Hogg, co-director of the centre in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, 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.

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

Edward Mitchard, the 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.”

Meanwhile, for the government, Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, said: “The UK is leading the world in tackling climate change and we have set the bar high, as the first country to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions.

“This new satellite datacentre will give us instant images showing us the true impact of climate change, and in doing so, help us develop innovative new ways of tackling it.”

Working closely with experts

The 50 new PhD researchers will work closely with experts from UK universities at Leeds and Edinburgh, as well as leading Earth Observation scientists and industry leaders.

Duncan Wingham, executive chair of the Natural Environment Research Council, added: “The researchers will support cutting-edge scientific discovery, new data-based products and new Earth observation technologies. Working with the UK Space Agency gives students unique opportunities to engage with the wider community.”

And, for the UK Space Agency, Beth Greenaway, head of Earth observation and climate said: “We have many of the world’s leading scientists and academics who can use this data for new discoveries, and we have a commercial sector able to build the space missions and create services for the public and private sector.

“The rapid growth of the Earth Observation sector means we need to attract thousands of people with the right skills over the next 10 years.”

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