A participant’s reflection on the NEODAAS and FSF Earth Observation Training at Space Park Leicester

The NEODAAS & FSF training course is a comprehensive four-day journey into the world of Earth Observation (EO) hosted at Space Park Leicester. I am Quillie, a Project Manager at Plymouth Marine Laboratory where I support the NEODAAS team and through this was lucky enough to participate in the Earth Observation training course. I felt incredibly honoured to learn from experts in the field, whose passion and knowledge made this a truly memorable and educational experience.


The Experience

The course kicked off with an online self-guided introductory phase, preparing us for the main four-day event. This format allowed for a smooth transition into the intensive, hands-on sessions that followed. From the moment I arrived, it was clear that the staff were not only highly skilled but also deeply committed to making complex topics accessible and engaging for all attendees.

As someone relatively new to EO (I dabbled in Remote Sensing at University level but had never taken it further) I was apprehensive about attending. However, the content was clear and approachable, and the trainers were exceptional at identifying areas where I struggled and explaining them in ways that were easy to digest. Having access to the computing facilities at PML after the course allowed me to revisit and reinforce what we learned, ensuring the knowledge truly sank in. I haven’t learned this much since my university days!

One of the standout aspects of the course was how well the team managed participants with varying levels of expertise. Whether you were a novice or had some experience, the trainers provided the right balance of support and challenge, making sure everyone could progress together. This inclusiveness fostered a collaborative and supportive learning environment, which was greatly appreciated.

Alex Woolcock, attendee and Earth Observation Specialist at the JNCC, noted ‘Attendees included first to final year PhD students along with NGO and public service employees and the course managed to provide us all with a chance to develop our theoretical understanding of the principles surrounding earth observation, as well as practical sessions to put these new skills into practice.”

The course also provided ample opportunities for networking, which was invaluable. Meeting like-minded individuals working on similar projects and forming connections with both peers and trainers enriched the experience.

Above: Emma Sullivan, kicking off the week with a clear introduction to the world of Earth Observation.
Above: Emma Sullivan, kicking off the week with a clear introduction to the world of Earth Observation.

The Course: Day-by-Day Breakdown


Day 1: Introduction to Earth Observation

The first day was an introduction to Earth Observation, with presentations from NEODAAS and NERC Fields Spectroscopy Facility. Emma Sullivan from NEODAAS gave the first talk on choosing the right data for your applications and the various factors to consider, as well as going through a selection of satellites, sensors available and how their data can be accessed. This session laid strong foundation for the rest of the course to build on. The day ended with a guest talk from Dr Lauren Biermann (University of Plymouth) on her research into detecting plastic debris from space, Lauren’s passion was infectious, and the talk opened my mind to the wide array of application of EO data.

Above: Here’s a GIF I created in the first practical, looking at mangrove cover in the Klang Islands of Malaysia, made using the Sentinel Hub EO Browser


Day 2: Fieldwork in Support of Earth Observation

Day two was a hands-on experience with state-of-the-art field spectrometers, guided by the highly experienced team from FSF. We learned calibration techniques and delved into the data outputs, discovering the multitude of applications for the data collected. This practical approach solidified my understanding and showcased the real-world relevance of the tools we were using.

Amos Chege, a PhD Candidate at King’s College London, appreciated the practical aspect, saying, “The use of field equipment was amazing. These are the much-needed skills in the field and I am grateful to be part of the team.”

Ross Deans, a Post Doc at the University of Edinburgh, shared: “I particularly liked getting hands-on experience using field spectrometers outside and relating that data to what a satellite sees. This is very relevant to my work on plant responses to water stress, where I want to scale up what is happening at the leaf level to canopy and ecosystem scales.”

Caption: Here I am learning to use the Field Spectrometer to compare the signals received from the vegetation and the paved surface.
Caption: Here I am learning to use the Field Spectrometer to compare the signals received from the vegetation and the paved surface.

Day 3: Data Processing and Atmospheric Correction

The third day focused on data processing and the critical step of atmospheric correction. The day kicked off with an airborne processing practical led by Will Jay (NEODAAS), where the group learnt to process airborne hyperspectral data from Level 1 to Level 3. Emma Sullivan (NEODAAS) then took over to guide us through data quality flags and masking. We gained confidence using SNAP software and began to understand programming and automation through practical exercises. This day was pivotal in learning how to prepare satellite and airborne data for analysis, emphasizing the importance of data quality and correction techniques. Kay Ihle, a PhD Candidate at Scottish Association for Marine Science, found the programming practical’s particularly engaging, mentioning, “It was really satisfying to run the code and additionally get some extra practice with Python.”

Above: Map of masked Sentinel-3 chlorophyll concentration in southern Spain, created by participants in the session by Emma Sullivan looking at data quality flags and masking.
Above: Map of masked Sentinel-3 chlorophyll concentration in southern Spain, created by participants in the session by Emma Sullivan looking at data quality flags and masking.


Day 4: Introduction to AI for EO Data & Workflow Project

On the final day Dave Moffat (NEODAAS) introduced us to the exciting world of AI and machine learning in EO. Although initially daunting, the content was broken down in a way that made it more accessible. Dave put it succinctly by saying, “AI and Machine Learning is basically just statistics,” which made the topic more approachable. Alex Woolcock reflected, “I have always seen ML to be a relatively ‘black box’ topic, and whilst I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I have come out of the course with a stronger grasp of the ML principles, applications, and an understanding of where the limitations lie. I look forward to applying this knowledge to my current work.” Ross Deans also appreciated this aspect, noting, “Dave did a great job of demystifying AI and how it can be used in Earth Observation applications.”

The final session of the course was a teamwork exercise. Mayra Rodriguez Bennadji, an Early Career Researcher at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, describes this well: “A highlight was the workflow project, where we collaboratively designed a workflow using the tools and data learned during the course. This project allowed us to apply our new skills and, most importantly, network with other participants.” The exchange of creative ideas and practical application encouraged everyone to think outside the box and delve into the range of applications for EO/remote sensing and the skills learned.

We finished with a tour of Space Park, where we saw various cutting-edge machines and sensors, rounding off the course with a glimpse into the future of EO technology.

Final Thoughts

The NEODAAS and NERC FSF training course was eye-opening. The expertise and dedication of the staff, course design, and digestible content have really boosted my knowledge and confidence in the field of Earth Observation, and I’m sure I will continue to build on connections and insights from these transformative four days. In conclusion, the course provided a perfect blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application, making it an invaluable experience for anyone looking to advance their skills in Earth Observation.

Thank you to the entire organising and training team for providing an excellent workshop and development opportunity, and to Space Park Leicester for hosting us.

NEODAAS is a NERC facility overseen by NCEO which provides a range of services to support the use of Earth Observation (EO) data within the UK research community.


Feedback from participants:

Kay Ihle “Even though attending a course online can be challenging, the programming practicals kept me invested and challenged. It was really satisfying to run the code and additionally get some extra practice with Python. All in all, attending the course remotely worked out great, which is in line with the advantages of Earth observation: learning a lot without leaving your office chair at all.”

Ross Deans, “The course covered an amazing breadth of topics, catering to both terrestrial and marine applications, but did it in a friendly way that wasn’t too overwhelming. Everyone was super friendly too – it made it a really fun week. I had no experience in Earth Observation before the course, but I now feel more familiar with the techniques and what is possible, and I am looking forward to applying Earth Observation techniques in the future.”

Amos Chege “The training was well organized and well delivered, timely, informative and opened a massive opportunity for collaboration between trainees and the NEODAAS team. Particularly, the sentinel data analysis has challenged me but SNAP solved the problems. Overall, the course was helpful and I look forward to using the training.”

Alex Woolcock: ‘I want to give a massive thanks to the organising and training team for providing an excellent workshop, it gave me the opportunity to develop my knowledge in the fundamentals of earth observation along with providing a space to network with like-minded professionals.