Earth and Planetary Observation Research Group

We harness satellite, airborne and in-situ sensor technologies to provide new understandings of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem responses to environmental change, and deliver data-driven solutions to pressing global challenges.

Satellite orbiting around earth

Our research themes

  • Development of global observatories from space
  • Integration of Earth observation within regulatory frameworks and industrial practice
  • Coupling Earth observation with models to deliver new systems understandings and robust predictions of change
  • Developing and deploying in-situ and IoT sensor systems to support regulatory practice
  • Exploring planetary bodies other than Earth

Our research

The Earth and Planetary Observation Research Group exploit the latest generation of satellite, airborne and in-situ sensor and software technologies and, where necessary, develop novel technologies and approaches to deliver new understandings of the Earth system and its responses to environmental stressors as well as other planetary systems.

We collaborate and co-develop with engineers, ecologists, statisticians and social scientists within SMEs, industry, statutory agencies and research institutions to model, predict and manage ecosystem change, and deliver data-driven solutions for pressing societal and global challenges including the Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., SDG 6, 12 & 13).  We also employ a range of remote sensing technologies from polarimetric and inferometric synthetic aperture radar (SAR), through light detection and ranging (LiDAR), to optical and gamma-ray spectrometry for a range of applications and delivering solutions across sectors and communities around the world.  We are also pioneering in bringing together Earth observation, in-situ sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and modelling to deliver the Forth Environmental Resilience Array - Living Laboratory (Forth-ERA).

We host the community database for Lake Bio-Optical Measurements and Matchup Data for Remote Sensing (LIMNADES) and lake climate service (EO4UKWater)

We have active roles in past and ongoing international planetary exploration missions such as the NASA Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars InSight lander, JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 mission, and the ESA ExoMars rover.

Research activities

Global observatories from space

Lakes dashboard and global map

We conduct world-leading research on bio-geo-optics, radiative transfer and remote sensing in optically complex inland, transitional and coastal marine waters to deliver reliable solutions that enable the accurate retrieval of water quality information. Operationalising these algorithms with our partners is enabling us to understand the differential sensitivity of lakes to environmental change drivers (UKRI NERC GloboLakes) and develop early warning for harmful algal bloom (HABs) detection. ESA CCI Lakes project is producing and validating a consistent data set EO derived variables grouped under the Lakes ECV for the Global Climate Observing System.

The capacity is contributing to the Observation Node of the pan-European Research Infrastructure DANUBIUS-RI ESFRI – The international centre for advance studies on river-sea systems.

We are working with partners across Europe to develop EO capabilities to monitor inland and coastal waters support a range of stakeholders through H2020 projects (INFORM; EOMORES; CoastObs). We are developing the roadmap for the next phase of Copernicus Services for water quantity and water quality (Water-ForCE). Recognising the gap in existing Copernicus Services, we are now working with partners to develop the algorithmic approach to tackle the optical complexity of transitional environments including estuaries, deltas and lagoons (CERTO

Our work on SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) includes the design of methodologies exploiting polarimetry or interferometry to monitor marine and terrestrial ecosystems with special interest in environmental protection and hazard mitigation. Among other things, we have designed detectors identifying plastic pollutants (ESA PlasticSurf) in the sea and revers, we monitor water hyacinth infestation in India (RAEng WeedWatch), crop phenology and classification for food security (UKSA EO4cultivar) and flooded area for malaria risk in Guyana (UKSA DETECT).

Integrating Earth observation within regulatory frameworks and industrial practice

We deliver scientific solutions for mainstreaming satellite monitoring capabilities into UK and Ireland water quality monitoring and management. We are working closely with the UK regulators and the water industry to exploit EO capability:

  1. as direct input into the Water Framework Directive (WFD) classification tool
  2. to identify water bodies and regions at potential risk of poor water quality status
  3. to aid the selection of targeted sampling to optimise the representativeness of ground-based measurements and facilitate effective water management
  4. to optimise reservoir management for efficient water treatment and early detection of quality issues

We are developing the UKs first Earth observation based Lakes Climate Service EO4UKWater with partners at 3DEO.

Working closely with research partners across Europe, we are helping a range of end users exploit Earth observation capabilities within inland and coastal waters.

We are working on an IPP UKSA project aimed at providing remote sensing operational solutions for food security in South America. This project involves a large amount of end users from small farmers to vegetable exporters.

Screengrab from UK lakes dashboard

Developing and deploying in-situ and mobile sensor systems

We routinely deploy high-end bio-optical instruments to validate and optimise existing sensors across a range of platforms (citizen science, in-situ, airborne and satellite) and help to develop technologies at a range of technology readiness levels (

We actively use high frequency data from in situ sensors to study environmental change in lakes including collaborating with EU colleagues on an Innovative Training Network, MANTEL, examining the impacts of extreme events on lakes and reservoirs. Working with EU colleagues on the Innovative Training Network, inventWater, we are combining in situ data, earth observation data, and computer modelling to develop tools for forecasting water quality on regional and global scales.

We develop in-situ, mobile (handheld and car-borne) gamma ray spectrometry systems to map radioactivity in the environment. We develop novel algorithms to map the spatial and vertical distribution of radioactive contamination in the environment. We deploy in-situ and mobile systems for dose assessments across a range of environments, including those characterised by extreme radioactive contamination. Working closely with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) we have also developed handheld systems for the detection hot particles (caesium-137 and radium-226) in the environment. We operate an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory for environmental radioactivity.

Drone and boats

Planetary and Asteroid Observation

Christian Schroder with Mars rover model

Working with the UK Space Agency, we have active roles in a number of past and ongoing international planetary exploration missions, which are studying planetary environments and the evolution of life in our Solar System. NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity (launched in 2003, mission concluded 2019) investigated Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum where they established the presence of liquid water on the surface and habitable conditions on early Mars. JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 mission (launched 2014) investigated carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu and returned samples from its surface to Earth in December 2020. NASA’s InSight lander (launched 2018 and active) investigates the interior structure of Mars. The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover is a collaboration between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos. It is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will land at Oxia Planum on Mars, searching for evidence of life on the Red Planet.

Research in our laboratories provides ground truth for these missions and includes projects related to Mars Sample Return. Our research fosters cross-fertilisation between planetary exploration and environmental science. Our Mössbauer Spectroscopy laboratory for Earth and Environment (MoSEE), for example, features a miniaturized Mössbauer spectrometer MIMOS II, which was originally developed for the Mars Exploration Rover mission. This instrument now enables non-destrucive and in situ analyses on Earth. MoSEE is part of the UK Cosmochemical Analysis Network (UK CAN)

Research Team

Ximena Aguilar Vega PhD researcher
Daniel Atton Beckmann  PhD researcher
Matthew Blake  Snr Tech Specialist Earth Observation
Emily Bonsall PhD researcher
Dr Alison Brown Research Fellow in Digital Water
Dr Anna Crawford Lecturer in Physical Geography
Dr Verity Flower Lecturer in Remote Sensing and Natural Hazards (Research Group Co-chair) 
Nicola Horsburgh PhD Researcher
Dr Peter Hunter SIEC/Forth-ERA Science Director Associate Professor in Earth observation
Felix Isundwa PhD Researcher
Nagendra Jaiganesh Sankara Narayanan PhD Researcher
Dr Dalin Jiang Research Fellow in Earth observation
Celeste Kellock PhD Researcher
Dr Chris Littleboy Post Doctoral Research Fellow
Dr Armando Marino Associate Professor in Earth observation
Conor McGlinchey PhD Researcher
Josh Millard Forth-ERA Technical Specialist
David Millar Hydro Nation Senior Innovation Fellow
Lipa Nkwalale ITN Early Stage Researcher
Georgina Page PhD Researcher
Bridget Rusk PhD Researcher
Dr Edward Salakpi Remote Sensing Scientist
Dr Christian Schroeder Senior Lecturer in Environmental Informatics
Maud Siebers ITN Early Stage Researcher
Dr Thiago Silva Senior Lecturer in Environmental Informatics
Dr Cristian Silva Perez Radar Remote Sensing Scientist
Morgan Simpson PhD Researcher
Dr Evangelos Spyrakos Research Group leader – Associate Professor in Earth observation
Prof Andrew Tyler Scotland Hydro Nation Chair
Dr Harriet Wilson Research Fellow in Earth observation
Mahtab Yaghouti ITN Early Stage Researcher
Dr Oualid Yahia Research Fellow in Earth observation


Contact us

Please contact Professor Andrew Tyler for any queries or information.