Global scientists come together to make better use of Earth Observation data

15 May 2018

JASMIN computing cluster

The JASMIN computing cluster is hosted by Scientific Computing Division in STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory R89 data centre on behalf of RAL Space researchers studying climate change and processing satellite data.
(Credit: STFC)

Hundreds of data scientists from across the world are gathering at the UK Space Cluster in Harwell, Oxfordshire this week to contribute to an international conference focussed on addressing the opportunities in understanding vast datasets. The scientists at PV 2018 will be assessing ways to take that new information and make it accessible and useable to the widest variety of disciplines for societal benefit and commercial growth.

Vast datasets now exist in many areas of science and society but we need the right tools to process and make sense of it. STFC RAL Space, the UK Space Agency and the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) are hosting the conference bringing together participants from academia and industry. PV 2018 will highlight the cutting edge of data exploitation and preservation science and technologies from satellites and science experiments.

Esther Conway, Head of the Scientific Programme Committee for PV 2018 and Senior Data Scientist at STFC’s RAL Space, welcomed delegates to the conference

“The way we manage large datasets underpins our ability to do big science. We have speakers from across the world sharing their projects to help realise the social and economic benefits of data. It’s a fantastic opportunity to forge new international partnerships and strengthen existing ones.”

With over 310 authors from five continents contributing, talks will range from pest control in sub-Saharan Africa to the UK transport network. The programme will feature speakers from NASA, CERN, ESA, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), Chinese meteorological office and Kenyan Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation as well as British institutions.

One of the innovative UK projects being presented at the conference is Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE). It has been funded by the UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme (IPP), to develop a crop pest and disease risk forecasting system designed for smallholders and commercial producers in developing countries. Bringing together a broad range of stakeholders, including plant protection authorities, data experts, private sector companies, and the farmers themselves, PRISE uses state-of-the-art crop and pest modelling techniques to provide users with advanced warning of a damaging outbreak and appropriate advice on mitigation responses.

Beth Greenaway, Head or Earth Observations and Climate at the UK Space Agency, said: “We generate so much fantastic data now from cutting-edge Earth observation missions. It’s vital for the community who really know how to manage and preserve the data to talk with those who will be using it for applications we haven’t even thought of yet. 

“This conference provides a space for key discussion at a time of rapid change in the Earth observation sector, with many smaller and cheaper missions evolving as well as users waking up to the potential.”

While the PRISE project is all about combining readily available data and making it accessible to the people who need it, the same challenges are being faced by the team behind the UK Data Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI). This new UK national facility will enable researchers and policy makers to understand and predict stresses and strains on UK infrastructure. As our society and environment changes so our infrastructure, whether from energy suppliers, water systems and transport routes must adapt. This project will enable smarter investment and better planning for extreme events for more resilient infrastructure. Scheduled to be operational in 2021, conference delegates will hear from STFC’s Scientific Computing Department about what it takes to design such a sophisticated system.

Other work being presented this week will demonstrate how machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can enhance the way scientists work. The BACI project has perfected machine learning to automate methods to detect changes to ecosystems using satellite data. It has used JASMIN, a supercomputer and data store for environmental science, managed jointly by STFC’s RAL Space and Scientific Computing Department in Harwell to process almost 20 years of Earth Observation data for use in biodiversity and land use studies. Growing quantities of data make this kind of AI system vital to our understanding of the planet.

John Remedios, Director of NCEO said “The PV2018 conference provides a window on a worldwide development of advanced computing, data-driven methods and space which is set to fuel a new information economy based around observing our planet.”



PV 2018 - Now in its ninth edition, PV addresses prospects in the domain of data preservation, stewardship and value adding of scientific data and research related information.

STFC RAL Space - STFC RAL Space is an integral part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). RAL Space carries out world-class space research and technology development with involvement in over 210 space missions to date. | @RAL_Space_STFC

UK Space Agency - The UK Space Agency leads the UK’s efforts to explore and benefit from space, with responsibility for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme. It ensures Government investments in space science and technology deliver significant value to the UK economy and people’s lives.

National Centre for Earth Observation - The National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) is a distributed centre with over 100 scientists from UK institutions, led by Professor John Remedios at the University of Leicester. It provides NERC with national capability in Earth observation science and incorporates world-class capabilities in interpretive Earth observation to meet the needs of society through long-term core science and translation of knowledge and environmental data for government and business.

NCEO has world-class capabilities in processing and analysing the vast quantities of data generated by satellites, aircraft and ground-based instruments to monitor and understand global and regional environmental change.

PRISE - The consortium running PRISE is led by CABI, working with Assimila Limited, King’s College London and the STFC-RAL component of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO). Key in-country partners are: the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD) in Ghana; the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries (MoALF) in Kenya; and the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI).

PRISE is funded under the UK Space Agency’s International Partnerships Programme (IPP), a five-year, £152 million programme designed to partner UK space expertise with overseas governments and organisations. Additional funding is provided by Plantwise donors, including the UK Department for International Development (DFID).


About the UK Space Agency’s IPP - The UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) is a five-year, £152 million programme designed to partner UK space expertise with overseas governments and organisations. It is funded from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 17 delivery partners including the Research Councils, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and funding bodies. It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need.

Last updated: 16 May 2018

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