SHY and SENSE Research Experience Placements Showcase Event

The SHY Intern Network

The summer intern network organised by SHY is an annual initiative to bring together students on space-related research experience placements (REPs), both industrial and academic, which last around 6 weeks. The application game for the REPs was noted to be highly competitive, with over 350 applications for around 20 projects which are all NERC (National Environmental Research Council) funded, collaborating with various doctoral training programmes, academic institutions and industrial partners. The intern network included a welcome event, weekly virtual coffees, social events, and talks about academia and industry.

On 17th August 2021, SHY, collaborating with the SENSE Earth Observation CDT, rounded off the 2021 summer intern network by hosting the REP showcase event, bringing interns together to present the research they had conducted during their REP. Academic supervisors and industrial partners were all invited to the event, and we also welcomed Kathie Bowden (Lead for Skills and Careers at the UK Space Agency) and Kat Scott (Senior Programme Manager for Talent and Skills at NERC).

Section 1: Oceanography, Conservation, and Vegetation

The first segment of the showcase featured projects specialising in oceanography, vegetation, conservation and applications to social science. We delved into the importance of satellite data from the get-go, and how different techniques such as masking and cleaning are applied to available data to produce results of higher quality. Students presented how artificial intelligence and machine vision can be used for building reconstruction to make inferences on poverty estimates, as well as identifying soil types linked to land use, placing emphasis on how the wealth of in situ sensors benefits land mapping in the UK. Interdisciplinary approaches included the application of isotopes and radiometric labelling to detect iron levels in the ocean and presence of eddies stirring up the water column and shelf sediments, and how Earth observation data can directly apply to social science, with results going back to UNICEF to highlight the utility of certain social indicators.

Section 1 Projects:

  • Gareth Haagman – Poverty Estimates in Mozambique and Zimbabwe Using High Resolution Satellite Data. Supervisor: Dr Gary Watmough
  • Hollie Black – Supporting the development of a Children’s vulnerability to climate change index in Uganda. Supervisor: Dr Gary Watmough
  • Ilaria Stolberg – A multidisciplinary approach to quantifying oceanographic pathways around Antarctica and their impacts on climate. Supervisors: Dr Amber Annett, Dr Sian Henley, Dr Alice Marzocchi
  • Caitlin Frampton – Mapping forest height in Ghana to support carbon-based conservation. Supervisors: Dr Charlotte Wheeler, Prof Ed Mitchard
  • Luca Bennett – Remote sensing applications in soil health monitoring in agricultural systems. Supervisor: Dr Marcelo Galdos
High resolution drone imagery in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from the Open Cities AI Challenge dataset used to map buildings (Source: Dave Luo,
Map and location of the Drake Passage, between the Antarctic Peninsula and South America, which opened up during the Cenozoic. The Drake Passage is a key player in modulating current climate through effects on ocean circulation (Source: Sarah Tanburn,, original source unavailable)

Section 2: Conservation and Vegetation

The second session of the day began with presentations on conservation management. Here, interns showed the pros and cons of different data streams when it comes to this field, and how satellite data can be used in conjunction with other data types to highlight, for example, watering holes and associated wildlife. Presentations on the Arctic noted the ability of satellite data to pick out trends in greening and browning based on environment and location (meltwater basins and coastal regions), and the benefits of automated analysis systems versus manual methods. Mapping forests and water in different regions of the UK showed the ability of Earth observation data exploitation to provide motivation for policy and adaptation, especially where local greening can be due to water leaks as well as having ties to environments these occur in. Presentations in this session further delved into how data presented to us must be cleaned, and is not always in pristine condition for analysis, and how these REPs enabled interns to better their skills in code, software usage and data manipulation.

Section 2 Projects:

A visualisation of greening and browning trends in Arctic and sub-Arctic North America, highlighting the impact of global warming/Arctic amplification on growing seasons and plant communities (Source: Robert Simmon (NASA Earth Observatory),
Updated PlanetScope data from Planet Labs, a commercial satellite company, highlights that the increase in detail and resolution significantly improves visualisation of watering holes and surface features compared to freely available data from satellites such as Landsat (Source: Joshua Stevens (NASA Earth Observatory),

Section 3: Cryosphere

The third session focused on various projects with studies focused from the poles to ice sheets to glaciated regions on the continents. With the cryosphere being a hot topic in the scientific world given the projected effects of climate change on ice mass, as well as cryosphere-atmosphere interactions and understanding subglacial topography, it was no surprise that questions were in their abundance during this session. We were treated to incredible satellite imagery of changes to Antarctic ice, insights into instrumentation used in experiments of ice nucleation, as well as photographs of phenomena such as fog bows, differing to rainbows due to size of water droplets and the resultant colour. Reconstruction of past glacial surge events in the Karakoram highlighted the potential impacts of warming in mountainous regions. Students, like in previous sessions, talked of their experience with code, including a mention of how the projects helped them to appreciate deep learning methods, while also weighing into account the inherent difficulties using and learning such topics.

Section 3 Projects:

Graphic highlighting the regions where changes in ice velocity and glacier flow on Antarctic are the greatest, as shown in red, identified using a compilation of satellite data streams – areas include the Getz region (black rectangle) (Source: The European Space Agency,
An image of fogbows over the Summit Station in Greenland, as identified by their optical properties, linked to the sizes of water droplets (Source: Brant Miller,

Section 4: Atmosphere

The final session of the day focused on research into atmospheric science, with studies of regions all over the world, including south-east Asia, North Africa, and various urban hotspots in the UK. One theme was air quality and pollution – both on local and regional levels, and from effects of land use to atmospheric/climate oscillations. This session highlighted the importance of combining satellite and surface measurements with modelling approaches, as well as the advent of (near-)real-time forecasting known as nowcasting revolutionising the field, applied to meteorological phenomena such as haboobs. We were able to see research focused on specific case studies that push focus on extreme climate events such as storm-induced rainfall and wildfires. Work here highlighted the requirement of constant methodology updates to improve automated tracking and shifting of threshold values to indicate when a certain climate event is of significance, compared to expectations.

Section 4 Projects:

  • Elizabeth Baird-Hutchinson – Utilising Satellite and Surface Measurements of Nitrogen Dioxide to Investigate UK Air Quality. Supervisor: Dr Richard Pope
  • Matthew Scholes – Understanding extreme weather caused by convective storms in south-east Asia. Supervisors: Dr Simon Peatman, Dr Juliane Schwendike, Dr Cathryn Birch
  • Emily Kelly – Quantifying the impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño event on regional wild-fire-induced ozone air pollution using Earth observation and modelling. Supervisor: Dr Richard Pope
  • Andrew White – Dust storms in the Sahara and Sahel: nowcasting and its application to understanding dust emission and transport. Supervisor: Prof John Marsham
  • Daniel Bonser – The constantly evolving composition of Earth – the contribution from micrometeorites. Supervisor: Dr Jason Harvey
Health risks that can be heightened through changes in atmospheric teleconnection/climate oscillation trends, such as El Nino – these can affect the occurrence of droughts, severe storm activity, and wildfires (Source: author unknown ,
Image of a haboob/dust storm rolling into a village located on the River Nile (Source: World Meteorological Organization,

Reflection on the Showcase

Throughout the showcase, the interns were able to talk about what is next for them upon completion of their REP. This included research/field assistant posts and themes included in final year dissertations/projects, as well as how they will use the skills obtained during their placement in the future. While not all students had completed their REP by the time of the showcase, all interns presented high-quality research that they can all be proud of. Many have showcased work with potential for publishing, as highlighted by their supervisors, and can act as foundation for further research, and have been given the opportunity to present their work at conferences.

Thanks go to Ruth Amey (SHY Communications and University Relations, and SENSE manager for the University of Leeds), Eleanor Graham (SENSE manager for the University of Edinburgh) and Anna Hogg (SHY Founder and Associate Professor at the University of Leeds) for organising a very successful intern network showcase. In addition, Eleanor Graham and Ashar Aslam (SHY Summer Administrator and incoming SENSE PhD student at the University of Leeds) are thanked for chairing the morning and afternoon sessions respectively. Many thanks to all supervisors for their work in supporting the interns and providing them with a boost to their research profile. And finally, of course, thank you to all of the students who were part of the summer intern network cohort for 2021, for presenting phenomenal projects, as well as supporting each other’s research – we wish you the best in your future endeavours.