Space Technologies to help protect communities and the environment

Multi-million pound funding for world-class research at our University, to use space technologies to help herders in Mongolia and monitor tropical forests in SE Asia, has been announced by Science Minister Sam Gyimah.

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) today (Thursday) announced a total of £38million funding under its International Partnership Programme. From this, more than £6 million is allotted to three projects involving the University of Leicester.

Leicester is involved in more projects than any other university:

  • Peatland Assessment in SE Asia by Satellite (PASSES): Leicester Principal Investigator Professor Sue Page and Leicester co-PI Professor Kevin Tansey
  • eOsphere Limited, Didcot: SIBELIUs: Improved resilience for Mongolian herding communities using satellite derived services: Leicester Principal Investigator Dr Caroline Upton
  • A third project led by the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

Professor Paul Van Gardingen, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor International and Research Development, said: “The award of these three projects is a recognition of the strength of the University of Leicester’s research on the applications of space technology and our ability to work with strategic partners in industry and developing countries. These projects will deliver benefits to society and the economy in a number of developing countries and the United Kingdom.

“Earth Observation is an area of research that the University of Leicester is recognised for being globally excellent, and one that the University is supporting through significant investments including the development of the new Space Park Leicester. This forms a significant part of the UK Government’s investment in the Midland’s Engine strategy and will create additional opportunities for the University to work with industry, and users of our research around the world, to improve jobs, enhance society and contribute to economic growth.”

The University of Leicester projects are outlined below:

One project involving Leicester is the Peatland Assessment in SE Asia by Satellite (PASSES). Tropical forest fires affect over 20 million people in South East Asia, leading to significant deteriorations in public health and premature mortalities as well as contributing to global CO2 emissions and other negative environmental impacts. Many fires occur over drained peatland areas. This project will use satellite observations and measurements to map peat condition, even when under a forest canopy. By monitoring water levels and improving hydrology in the peatland areas, the risk of fire can be dramatically reduced. By using freely available observations from satellites through the EU Copernicus programme and use of emerging industrial hosted processing capabilities, PASSES will prove that peatland monitoring is a cost effective way to reduce forest fires.

Another project involving Leicester is SIBELIUs: Improved resilience for Mongolian herding communities using satellite derived services. The Leicester Principal Investigator for the Project is Dr Caroline Upton, Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment at Leicester.

Mongolia is a large country with around 30% of its population dependant on livestock herding.These herding communities can be devastated by extreme weather events known as “dzuds”, usually comprising a dry summer, adversely affecting pasture growth, followed by a cold winter with deep snow. A typical dzud can impact many tens of thousands of herders, often leaving them in extreme poverty, with associated impacts for the wider economy. SIBELIUs will provide greater dzud-resilience for herders by developing and providing Mongolia’s National Agency for Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring with new and upgraded satellite-based environmental products and improving their capacity for distributing products to key stakeholders supporting herding communities. As a vital component of the project, SIBELIUs will also work with herders at selected case study sites to analyse their information requirements, to better understand barriers to uptake of previous insurance products, and to ensure their voices and priorities are heard in the development and distribution of new satellite-based environmental products.