EGU 2017

As a result of a travel grant awarded to me by the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society, I was lucky enough to be able to return to EGU this year, albeit only for the Wednesday. I was there to present my research, in a poster format, based on raw image processing in structure-from-motion workflows. After arriving in Vienna on Tuesday afternoon I went straight the hostel I was staying at to review my poster and to finalize the sessions I would go to.

I got to the conference early in the morning, and set up my poster which was to be presented during the high resolution topography in the geosciences session. After taking a short break to grab a coffee, I headed over to the first session of the day – Imaging, measurements and modelling of physical and biological processes in soils. After last year’s fascinating run of discussions about soil and soil erosion, I decided my one day at EGU would be largely dedicated to that theme!

One particular talk which caught my eye used data fusion of laser scanning and NIR spectrometry with the goal to couple the two datasets for use in examining feedbacks in soil processes. Some very cool kit, and very blue-sky research, a good way to start the day!

After lunch, I almost exclusively attended a land degradation session, which featured some very interesting speakers. Many focused on integrating modern techniques for prevention of soil erosion and gully formation into farming practices in Africa. Interestingly, while the talks almost all focused on case studies and success in showing the physical effects of taking these actions, the Q & As were very much about social aspects, and how to bring about the cultural change within farming communities.

Another notable talk was given by a group who were aiming to promote the use of a targeted carbon economy which sees citizens from carbon consuming countries pay for the upkeep and management of forestry in developing communities. The presentation was very clear and set solid numbers onto each factor introduced, which meant it was much easier to share the vision portrayed, definitely something I’ll be following in the future!

This lead to the poster session in which I was participating, which was well attended and seemed to generate lots of interest. By the time I arrived to present at the evening session, the 15 A4 posters I had printed had been hoovered up, which is always a good sign! Over the course of the hour and a half I was visited by many people who I had met before at various conferences – it’s always nice to have people you know come to say hello, especially as affable a bunch as geomorphologists!

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The poster I presented

One group of particular interest were from Trinity College Dublin, where I had done my undergraduate degree many moons ago. Niamh Cullen is doing research into coastal processes in the West of Ireland and is using photogrammetry to make some measurements, and so we had a very good discussion on project requirements/best strategy. She’s also involved in the Irish Geomorphology group, who’s remit seeks to establish a community of geomorphologists in Ireland.

In the evening I attended the ECR geomorphologist dinner, which was great fun, a good way to wrap up proceedings! I look forward to participating in EGU in the future in whatever capacity I can.

Reflecting on Wavelength

Two years ago I agreed to join the committee of a professional body known as the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc), a professional body whose remit is to promote and educate its members and the public on advancements in Remote Sensing Science. When I signed up to join as the Wavelength representative, I admittedly knew very little about not only how this society operated, but societies in general, and what their function was in the greater scope of progress of Science. I took on the role knowing I’d have to learn fast, and, after a two year lead period, host a conference focusing on Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry, which would serve to bring early career researchers from both academia and industry together to discuss the latest advancements in RSP Science.

The first Wavelength conference I attended way back in 2015 was at Newcastle, a few months after my first conference experience at the 2014 GRSG meeting in London, just two months after starting my project.

The difference was apparent, with the GRSG attracting the old guard from all over the world to contribute to the conference. I distinctly remember Nigel Press, a veteran Remote Sensor and founder of NPA satellite mapping, turning around to the crowd during a Q and A session pleading with people to start taking risks funding/supporting hyperspectral satellite missions, as their contributions to geological research was so apparent. I didn’t mention it in my write up from that conference, but it really stuck with me as, at least for that minute, it all seemed so human. But apart from that, it was all quite formal and difficult to tell how I, as a novice, could really play a part.

With Wavelength, however, this humanity is what it’s all about! When everyone’s a novice, you can afford to be a bit more gung-ho with your opinions. As someone who tries to always ask, or at least dream up, a question during Q and A portions of talks, I loved it so much. Rich bluesky discussions have kept me motivated around the inevitable slower portions of writing and finicky data processing of my project, and Wavelength had them in buckets! The fact that I got so much out of it was part of my reason for volunteering to host it, as I felt like it would be a way for me to contribute back to the community, and get more involved in RSPSoc.

After an extremely enjoyable and well-run conference at MSSL during the spring of 2016, it was up to me to deliver a conference in Kingston in March 2017, while coordinating the final run in to my PhD project. While things could definitely have been done better, and I should have maybe been a bit more ruthless about advertising the conference to a wider audience, I have to say I think it ran quite smoothly, and the delegates got a lot out of it, as did I! I’ll include a summary of each day below, and my favourite parts throughout the three day agenda, including a longer description of one delegate presentation.

Monday 13th March

Delegates arrived at Kingston train station at around 11.30 am. I had enlisted the help of my colleague Paddy to go and meet the delegates, as I had to run up the poster boards to the conference room. After lunch and a quick roll call, things kicked off with 6 talks spanning image processing and Remote Sensing of vegetation.

Andrew Cunliffe, eventual winner of best speaker, showed some captivating UAV footage of Qikiqtaruk, a site where arctic ecology is being furtively researched to try to gain insight into differences between observations at different scales, both the changing ecological and geomorphological landscapes. I was interested in his hesitance in saying what he was doing for UAVs was not ‘ground truthing’ of satellite images, but more ‘evaluation’ thereof, as ground truth was never really acquired (outside of GCPs for a few of the 3D models). You can check out his profile on google scholar, which lists some pretty interesting research!

Monday wrapped up with a meal at a local Thai food restaurant, the Cocoanut, a staple with the Kingston Research folk!

Tuesday 14th March

After a tour of Kingston’s town centre in the morning, we returned to the conference venue to listen to Alastair Graham, of geoger fame, give an insightful and extremely helpful talk about career options for Remote Sensing scientists. I felt really lucky to have had the opportunity to host him – truth be told it was a bit of a fluke we crossed paths at all! He had been retweeting some of the tweets from the @sentinel_bot twitter account I had made, which caused me to look at his twitter and subsequently his website. Realising he was organising an RS meeting in Oxford the month before Wavelength (Rasters Revealed), I jumped at the chance to get him onboard, and I’m glad I did! I won’t go into his use of sli.do, but only mention that it’s worth looking into.

On Tuesday, James Brennan’s talk about the next generation of MODIS burnt area products brought me back to my Masters’ days at UCL, and my time spent with the JRCTIP products. James’ talk was focused on the binary nature of classification, and how he was looking into using a DCT to model behaviours of fires, something like a fuzzy land classification. It was really engaging and I enjoyed his super-relaxed style of presenting.

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Delegates eye up some posters

Tom Huntley of Geoxphere also came in to give us a talk on recent advancements with their spinout hardware company, which provides high quality cameras for mapping purposes: the XCam series. Wavelength tries to bridge the gap between industry and acamemia, and both Tom and Alastair’s talk brought in the industry element I was hoping for.

After a nice meal at Strada Kingston, we hit the bowling alley before wrapping up day 2.

Wednesday 15th March

Wednesday’s session opened with delegates talking about mainly data processing. Ed Williamson, from the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) gave a very interesting introduction into the supercomputing facilities they provide (JASMIN), as well as services offered to clients choosing to avail of these services. They host the entire Sentinel catalogue, which is such an outrageous amount of data, and so it was interesting to be given a whirlwind tour of how this is even possible, practically speaking.

We also had the pleasure of listening to José Gómez-Dans from NCEO talk to us about integrating multiple data sources into a consistent estimation of land surface parameters using advanced data assimilation techniques. I had done my Masters’ thesis with Jóse, and (somewhat) fondly remember trying to interpret charts where the error bars couldn’t even be plotted in any reasonable way on them. This is the reality of EO though, uncertainty is part and parcel of it!

The poster session featured a wide range of topics, I even put up my one from EGU last year, and participants were extremely interested in drought mapping in Uganda, as well as numerous uses for InSAR data presented. Congrats to Christine Bischoff for winning the best poster award with her investigations of ground deformation in London.

Proceedings wrapped up with deciding on the next incoming Wavlength host (congrats to Luigi Parente, of Loughborough Uni) and a lovely lunch in the sun.

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Sunny group shot

Summary

Wavelength was really fun and interesting to organise, and I hope it’s a tradition we can keep going as a society. I’ve made the conference booklet publicly available here. For those of you who might be reading this blog and aren’t members I suggest you join, the benefits are evident.

For now, for me, it’s EGU and beyond – I’m also aiming to attend the annual RSPSoc conference in Imperial in September with latest developments from my fieldwork data!

A talk from the RGS conference

I gave a talk last week the Royal Geographical Society conference. It was a really interesting event, presenting an extremely diverse audience interested in different types of geography. As part of the event there was a UAV session which dove into concepts ranging from UAV geography and the impact they were having on human culture, to practical investigations using UAVs in the field.

My talk was on reporting image quality which I’ve written about on this blog before, as well as in an article as part of the SENSED publication. My supervisor had great foresight and brought along a voice recorder, so I’ve set the audio to the slides so as to have it for the record, and thought  I’d share it here too!

Thoughts on EGU

At the end of April I had the opportunity to participate in a big international conference in Vienna, which saw over 13,000 scientists participate and contribute to research in the geosciences. As in a previous post, I contributed a poster and PICO presentations, but not I’d like to outline what I enjoyed/didn’t enjoy about my time there.

Day 1. Sunday evening reception

Arriving at the Vienna International Centre, I was somewhat overwhelmed at the scale of the whole event. At reception there was a hive of activity, though registering was a matter of a minute or so due to having registered out details online previous to the event. The evening reception consisted of food and drink, all included in the registration price, which is a surefire way to get things going. I met a few interesting people, but spent the majority of the evening with both my supervisor and some students from Loughborough University. We posted in front of NASA’s ‘hyperwall’, a screen showing visualisations mainly of atmospheric patterns of the Earth. While I do like data visualisation, this seemed a bit out of place to me, like a talking piece on a coffee table, but for geoscience.

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Austria center, conference HQ

My first impressions were good, and I was excited to sink my teeth into the week’s activities.

Day 2. Monday 18th April

The day’s schedule didn’t have too much that was appealing, so I used most of the morning for orientation, and a chance to observe a few PICO sessions, in which I had never participated/seen before. These involve presenters giving a ‘two minute madness’; a rapid  overview of their research, and subsequently having people exploring an application prepared by the presenter for the following hour. The first session I attended was on a topic I had no interest in, but the idea seemed to work quite well as a concept. Previously, I had only been to poster sessions for presentation of content, so this was quite refreshing. I explored a few presentations on the touchscreens, which helped prepare for the one I had to deliver, as well as make some small edits to it.

In the afternoon I attended a few talks as part of the ‘Peatlands under pressure‘ session. Having studied carbon cycling/modelling during my masters degree, it was interesting to see practicing carbon scientists outside of the teaching environment. It was also of interest as Ireland has lots of peat bogs! A quick search left unsatisfactory results,  so I checked the CORINE land cover dataset from 2012, which reported that, exluding inland water bodies, Ireland’s land mass was 14.85% peat bog.

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Quick map showing Irish Peat bog cover

The participants were largely good,  and I enjoyed the level of detail that went in to a few. After a nice evening meal and a hiccup or two in central Vienna that night, I was prepared for my day of poster presenting on day 2.

 Day 2. Tuesday 19th April

This day had an extremely relevant oral session, and one PICO session I was very excited about. The day started with PICO presentations from the session ‘Frontiers in Geomorphometry and Earth Surface Dynamics: Possibilities, Limitations and Perspectives‘. It included some people whom had previously shared data with me, including Matt Westoby who’s photogrammetric subject features on my website. His talk on ‘direct georeferencing’ was quite interesting, a concept getting a great deal of attention and which is being studied by a friend up in Newcastle. His visualisations were great, but he was so busy talking to people after his presentation that I just decided it’d make more sense to catch up at the poster session that evening.

Another very interesting presentation was that of Andreas Kaiser, who is working towards practical in situ landslide monitoring using multi-camera networks (In this case 3 canon 400D cameras). He was kind enough to send me data he had captured, as he was having trouble getting consistent results from agisoft. I plan to test some newer photogrammetric concepts which are undoubtedly more demanding to see how results compare. A work in progress.

The oral presentations consisted of James Brasington giving a keynote on photogrammetric surveying of a braided river bed in New Zealand. His results were very interesting, with a scale of use of photogrammetry which I hadn’t seen before. His student Joe James, reported they had upwards of 4,000 images of the area. It was an engaging speech, well delivered, and reassuring that I wasn’t veering too far off in my usage of structure-from-motion.

A couple of other noteworthy presentations included Michael Wimmer on two-media photogrammetry, a thing I’ve read about a number of times before, which attempts to correct for water diffraction to model visible topography covered by water. His results left something to be desired, but a challenging and useful topic is always going to be tricky to develop, I was impressed.

The big winner for me, however, was that of Ellen Schwalbe, who had set up a camera array to monitor glaciers long team. This raised similar questions to Andreas’ PICO, as controlling for movements in camera position relative to the rest of the scene is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the time lapse camera network had picked up some really amazing calving events, as well as some good volumetric analysis to boot. I was very impressed by the research design, this was the best talk of the day I think.

That evening was my poster presentation, which was far more casual than I was expecting it to be. Beers were served during the evening, which always helps break the ice, and I had great talks with colleagues from TU Dresden, including Annette Eltner who had been kind enough to share some data with me. Another good chat was had with Karen Anderson who put me in touch with a student of hers with which I have common research interests. In all, a good, full day which left me with reams of ideas to pursue.

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The poster I presented.

 Day 3. Wednesday 20th April

A day without a great deal of relevant talks for me, I decided to revisit my roots in the morning and go to a couple of oral talks about fires, a topic which I had studied for my masters’ dissertation. Researchers from Colorado gave a good talk on post-fire recovery on hillslopes for different storm types which I quite enjoyed, but many of the talk weren’t as engaging.

During the day I observed a PICO session with my supervisor in order to get a feel for what I should expect in my own. The session was on nutrient recovery from farmed land, and featured a range of presentations of varying quality, some ranging from single slide short and snappy presentations to people attempting to deliver a full talk at a rate of one slide every 5 seconds. With PICO, brevity is a blessing and waffling is badly punished, an attractive attribute of any format. In short; all killer no filler.

In the afternoon I attended some talks about soil erosion and the formation of channels based on observation both in situ and lab-based, with one particular group (Can’t find the abstract!) performed a very well controlled lab experiment using a rainfall simulator on a flat sand bed to see the changing impacts of rainfall severity on soil patterns. They were well received, and I enjoyed the talk!

The evening poster session was OK, but I was very focussed on delivering a coherent PICO that I didn’t engage as much as I could have.

 Day 4. Thursday 21st April

The session I was participating in, ‘Unmanned Aerial Systems: Platforms, Sensors and Applications in the Geosciences‘, was on first thing in the morning and split into two parts, of which I was in the latter. The first talk of each PICO session consists of a ten minute keynote, this one was a very interesting concept on the measurement of soil-organic carbon using a multispectral UAV. The idea was to allow for precision monitoring of small fluxes in the measure, and could potentially be applied to farmed crops.

After the first session, the PICO hour was very interesting, and I mainly focused on the sructure-from-motion aspects, including the very interesting talk on DEM reproducibility by Niels Anders and co-authors including my supervisor, who presented.

I was second up on the second half of the session, and after a clunky start motor-mouthed my way through the majority of the 2 minutes. I think if I had used the first ten seconds more wisely I would have been OK, but these are the margins PICO demands! Afterwards I had some very stimulating talks with people who were interested, including a geologist from the Cordoba geological survey, an Austrian forester and a French glaciologist all of whom were seeking camera advice. The main point, above all, was shoot in RAW. As Verhoeven puts it in his paper, ‘RAW is the only scientifically justifiable file format’.

My PICO consisted of an interactive stereo matcher which put users in charge of image exposure, and could see both the histrograms and matching accuracies of the image pairs changing as they changed the settings. Unfortunately I think I overblew it a little, and people approaching me weren’t too interested in the graphical interface, but more in talking with me about camera settings. Not too worry though, you, fine reader, can get your own copy from the EGU portal here.

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Sample slide from my 2 minute talk

The session put me in high spirits, and really put into context how comforting it is to talk about things you know about with like-minded people. At a conference this big, I found myself without the expertise and vocabulary in many situations to maintain a dialogue, so I tried to simplify (perhaps to a fault) all of which I was talking about.

 

The only other talk I went to was on building surveying, and the use of novel instruments to measure stress applied, particularly focused on non-destructive methods for historical buildings. Some of the concepts could be applied in conjunction with other research I had seen, and I felt I started to think along the right lines of collaboration more towards the end of the day, which I could have used earlier in the session!

 Day 5. Friday 22nd April

The last day consisted of several sessions on science communication I was interested in. Having spoken with a couple who had set up the very informative and well organised SciCom website here, I decided to go along to the poster presentation to see what else was being discussed. Science communication is so important, and I’ve mentioned a charity I admire who are directly linked with it before. The public understanding section of this session was well put together, and gave me hope that scientists will one day be better communicators as a whole.

The last session I planned to attend was on open source software in geoscience, and, to be honest, I was quite dissapointed. I try my best at every step to not reinvent the wheel, but it seemed like in this session it’s what everyone was doing. I understand competition is important as a concept, but when you’re rewriting well documented and implemented code available through every channel imaginable I just don’t see the benefit versus the amount of time required. It was a PICO session, and most of the apps had examples of maps produced using their software, and all I could think of was how most were already very accessible by different means.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed my time at EGU, and would certainly recommend PhD students to go at least once. I must confess, however, I am excited to go to smaller conferences in the future, as the scale was one thing I never got used to. Even the amount of time to organise a good schedule was intimidating! Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy my account of things, and short of going to the conference itself, you should visit Vienna! It really is a very beautiful city.

EGU Poster/PICO

I’ve been neglecting this blog somewhat, but have a glut of new posts on the horizon! For now, I’ve uploaded both the PICO (Presentation of Interactive Content, which I’ll be blogging about!) and Poster from my attendance at the European Geophysical Union’s AGM last week. They can be found on the respective session pages in which they were featured (search “Connor” to find me):

Unmanned Aerial Systems: Platforms, Sensors and Applications in the Geosciences (co-organized)

High Resolution Topography in the Geosciences: Methods and Applications (co-organized)

I’m hoping others involved in the sessions do likewise as it would be a very interesting repository to look back at, and as a good insight into the cutting edge for those who could not attend!