Autumn in the PhD office

To begin with, in September we welcomed three new PhD’ students to our group, Ben Grayson, Lyndsey Graham and Mustafa Hameed. The former, Ben, is used to the surroundings having completed our surveying and mapping science degree (BSc), graduating over the summer. Lyndsey and Mustafa join us from other institutions, adding to the diverse range of students currently amongst the cohort of PhD students. They will soon submit their proposals so look out here for updates on their research subjects.

Back to the more experienced PhD students, Daniel Caparros-Midwood (4th year) attended and presented at a conference in Taiwan on his work in finding the optimal spatial locations for developments given the changing climatic conditions. Also, this week Andrew McClune is attending and presenting in Southampton at an Ordnance Survey’s research event for their researchers, affiliated researchers (including PhD students) and invited guests.

Looking forward within the past month a number of PhD students, researchers and staff have submitted abstracts for the GISRUK (GIS Research UK) conference, being hosted by the University of Leeds in 2015. Being an annual dedicated GIS conference in the UK it usually attracts a good mix of presenters and attendees from a spectrum of backgrounds, with our group usually well represented at the conference. If interested, the conference is still open to submissions for presentations and posters.

Finally, Andrew McClune has been working hard over the past few months in arranging the annual RSPSOC (Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society) student and early career researchers conference, wavelength, which is to be hosted by our department in the spring, March 30th – April 1st. The abstract deadline for submissions is 9th January, and for those wishing to attend and/or experience Newcastle, recently voted the UK’s best city (which to be honest we already new!), details will be released closer to the event so keep an eye on this blog, the website@rspsoc_wlength  or @GeospatialNCL.

International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure 2013 Conference Proceedings Released

Following attendance by researchers and students alike from the School and group at the first International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure 2013, the conference proceedings have now (finally) been released. Please find relevant link to the proceedings, videos, individual papers and more below:

Watch this space for more information about the groups attendance at ISNGI 2014…

Urban Observatory Portal goes live.

The Urban Observatory programme is deploying sensors and exploring the use of data to help inform the public about city services, and to help researchers better understand how cities work.

The data for this comes from a number of different streams and is held in a schemaless data structure. A python based middleware layer has been developed to ease the interactions with this structure. Facilitating the storing of data, the management of data and also creating different views onto the data.

It is through this middleware layer that a portal has been developed. By using django,  the Python Web framework tool. That allows data to be extracted that works with a number of JavaScript libraries e.g openlayers , highcharts.

The portal itself show the location of the sensors, provides graphs of the sensor data. As well as some extra functionality like heat mapping.

UO portal 1 UO Portal 2 UO portal 3

With the deployment of a wave of new sensors being planned in the next few months. You should see a few more dots appearing on this map shortly.

The portal is available

Neil – @neil_py_harris

New PhD students join Geospatial Engineering

This September saw 5 new PhD students join the Geospatial Engineering group, working in the field of remote sensing and photogrammetry. Magdalena Smigaj is a NERC-funded student working with Forest Research and examining ways to improve early detection of tree health problems, with a focus on detection of disease in UK forests using airborne imagery, LiDAR and data from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Originally from Poland, Magdalena obtained a BSc in Surveying and Mapping Science from Newcastle University before commencing her PhD. Maria Peppa is jointly funded by the British Geological Survey and EPSRC, and is investigating the potential of UAVs for landslide monitoring, with focus on photogrammetric aspects. Originally a native of Athens, Greece, Maria recently completed a two year MSc in Geodesy and Geoinformatics at The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, so has traded one chilly climate for another in her move to Newcastle. Elias Berra has come to Newcastle following a Masters in Remote Sensing at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sol (UFRGS) in Brazil. Elias is funded by the Science Without Borders programme and will be developing methods for monitoring woodland phenology (seasonal changes) using the School’s UAV. Elias, Maria and Magda will be working together over the coming weeks and months to develop more practical skills related to piloting and planning UAV flights. Polpreecha Chidburee, who goes by the nickname of Aun, is a Thai-sponsored PhD student who will be developing a close range photogrammetric system for rapid assessment of slope instability hazard. Aun is expected to work closely with Maria and a number of other CEG PhDs focusing on slope failure challenges. Finally, Afrah Daham is the latest in a line of PhD students to join the group from Iraq. Afrah, who is sponsored by the Iraqi government, joined the group from the University of Baghdad, where she was a lecturer in photogrammetry. Afrah will be researching the field of feature extraction and building reconstruction from mobile laser scanning data, exploiting a unique mobile mapping dataset acquired for the Newcastle University campus over the summer of 2013.

From left to right: Maria Peppa, Afrah Daham, Magdalena Smigaj, Elias Berra and Polpreecha Chidburee

A summer of SALCA


Geospatial Engineering researchers recently took a trip ‘Down Under’ to participate in a unique terrestrial laser scanning inter-comparison exercise. Dr Rachel Gaulton and Dr Steve Hancock joined almost 30 leading researchers from the UK, Australia and the U.S. at field sites near Brisbane in early August to evaluate and compare how five different laser scanners and a range of other measurement approaches can help to measure and monitor forest canopy structure. These scanners included the Salford Advanced Laser Canopy Analyser (or SALCA) , the subject of on-going NERC-funded research at Newcastle, in collaboration with University of Salford and UCL, examining the potential of dual-wavelength laser scanning for assessing forest canopy health.

The exercise, organised by John Armston and colleagues at DSITIA Queensland and CSIRO, was an activity of the Terrestrial Laser Scanning International Interest Group (TLSIIG), a recently formed network of scientists with an interest in forest laser scanning. Alongside SALCA, measurements of three field plots were made with the World’s only other dual-wavelength TLS, DWEL (developed by Prof. Alan Strahler at Boston University with collaborators at CSIRO, UMass Boston and UMass Lowell), the low-cost Canopy Biomass Lidars (named Candi and Bruno and developed by UMass Boston and RIT) and two commercial systems. Photogrammetric techniques also played a part with co-incident measurements made with the AusPlots ‘Photopoint’ method, a system designed to obtain 3D forest structure information from photo panoramas. A report on the exercise featured on Australian TV News .


Intercomparison exercise participants and their scanners. From left to right: A Riegl VZ400, a CBL, DWEL, a Faro scanner and SALCA.

Alongside the high-tech methods, leaf samples from the tree canopies were needed to allow measurement of spectral properties and to test the ability of dual-wavelength data to distinguish leaves and bark – a key factor in producing accurate estimates of canopy structure. Steve joined the destructive sampling team in using a ‘line thrower’ (or big slingshot) to collect the samples and undertook additional sampling to estimate the true leaf area index of a section of heavily laser scanned tree canopy.  Work is now on-going to calibrate and compare the data sets, with early results presented by TLSIIG members (John Armston, Crystal Schaaf and Alan Strahler) at the Silvilaser 2013 conference in Beijing.

Ian Paynter (UMass) and Steve with canopy samples and the line thrower (left) and a subset of SALCA data from Brisbane Forest Park (right).

The work in Brisbane followed a month-long field experiment with the SALCA instrument at the University’s Cockle Park Farm.  The experiment, part of a NERC-funded research project examining the potential of dual-wavelength laser scanning in forest health monitoring, was focussed on testing the sensitivity of the instrument to changes in canopy water content – an indicator of drought or disease. The canopy-scale experiment at Cockle Park involved subjecting 22 trees to drought stress, whilst making extensive physiological, spectral and laser scanner measurements and preliminary results have recently been presented by Rachel at the RSPSoc 2013 Annual Conference in Glasgow and the 9th EARSeL Forest Fire Special Interest Group Workshop held in Warwickshire.

More information about the SALCA instrument and on-going research can be found in the SALCA Diaries.

Scanning small-leaved lime at Cockle Park farm and SALCA data from a group of trees suffering drought stress (colours indicate reflectance at 1545 nm).

Many thanks are due to John Armston and colleagues for their hard work organising the Brisbane field work. Steve Hancock’s travel to the inter-comparison exercise was funded by a small grant from the Douglas Bomford Trust.

September.. it must be Kielder

As the leaves darken and the weather worsens, the new academic year starts with a bang as 50 students go off grid in Kielder, Northumberland to develop practical mapping and analysis  skills in a realistic setting.

Students from our Geographical Information Science, Surveying and Mapping Science, Physical Geography and Geography programmes spend 9 days collecting and analysing geospatial data using the latest technology.  We are based in the Calvert Trust Centre on the shores of Kielder Water surrounded by trees, midges and (well that’s about it…)


A fully networked geospatial gym!

Halfway through the fieldcourse, our students are “in the groove” , occasionally hampered by tricky conditions!  Students carry out a mix of detailed topographic survey tasks, DEM creation, Landuse mapping using remote sensed imagery and planning a new residential development site.  We are very grateful to the landowners and people of the Kielder valley who make us welcome each year.  So far, the torrential downpours of 2012 have been absent and conditions have been more benign, but there is time yet…

kielder dam in mist

Tricky survey conditions over Kielder dam

Google API-powered heatmap viewer of student visitor numbers at Newcastle University Open and Visit Days

As part of the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences involvement in University student recruitment activities, prospective 6th form and college students can attend Open and Visit Days. These days give students the opportunity to come and learn a little bit more about the courses that are offered at the University, including those taught within the School. Within Geomatics, prospective students are given some experiences of what it might be like to study Geographic Information Science (GIS), or Surveying and Mapping Science (SMS) Undergraduate courses via a handful of taster exercises. These exercises are designed to enable staff members to talk about some of the basic concepts that a prospective student might learn about should they decide to apply and study GIS or SMS.

A key student recruitment activity within the School and more widely the University, involves the coordinated marketing and distribution of promotional materials focussed on Undergraduate courses to different colleges and schools around the UK.  In order to better understand how the School’s involvement in this activity leads to prospective students attending the University Open and Visit Days, thus showing an interest in the courses on offer from the School, a very simple web-based tool has been developed to record where prospective students are travelling from on Visit and Open Days, by recording against the school or college at which the student attends. However not only does this begin to allow recruitment staff to understand how marketing activities are leading to prospective students attending the Visit and Open Days, it also doubles as a taster exercise in explaining some of the basic concepts of data capture, management and visualisation that a student would learn more about within the GIS and SMS courses. A prospective student is able to search for the school or college that they attend from a geocoded set of more than 60,000 schools, and then subsequently increment a count against that particular school for the particular year in which they attended a Visit or Open Day. All this information is stored within a PostGIS-enabled PostgreSQL relational database, and is served out to the webpage via JSON following the use of standard SQL queries to query the underlying data. As a result a prospective student, as well as recruitment staff, are able to create custom Heat Maps (intensity, not temperature!), all powered by the Google Maps API, of their data, or data from previous years. The query interface allows different HeatMaps to be created based on sub-selections of school type, gender (boys only, girls only, or mixed gender schools) and years of interest.

For clarification the database stores no other information about the student other than a count against a particular school or college at which the prospective student attends, and the addition of new information is protected behind a username and password. The following images give some illustrations of this interface and tool:

Increment count against a school, at which a prospective student attends

Increment count against a school, at which a prospective student attends


HeatMap viewer, with criteria dialog

HeatMap viewer, with criteria dialog


HeatMap viewer, outputs

HeatMap viewer, outputs

Alpine Training

At the end of 2012 Dr Stuart Barr and Alistair Ford from the Geospatial Engineering group paid a visit to the University of Innsbruck for a week of discussions, demonstrations and workshops with the ‘Umwelttechnik‘, or the Unit of Environmental Engineering. The group of Professor Wolfgang Rauch specialises in urban water management through novel modelling approaches which link traditional hydraulic modelling with cutting-edge urban, infrastructure and agent-based models. Since the Geospatial Engineering group is interested in environmental sustainability and climate change, the entire journey from Newcastle to Innsbruck was undertaken by train!

Catching up on some reading...

During the week, the researchers from Innsbruck demonstrated their innovative models of water infrastructure development. These link physical simulations of water supply and sewerage systems with future projections of urban growth, allowing assessments of network performance under climate and socio-economic change. Also demonstrated was the ‘ACHILLES‘ approach (link in German) to network failure assessment, ranking each component according to the impact its failure may have on the whole network. The group are based in the Faculty of  Civil Engineering, based on the new technical campus of Innsbruck University. The view from their offices is quite impressive…

A meeting room with a view!

The work of the Newcastle Geospatial Engineering group was also presented to demonstrate alternative techniques for urban development modelling being developed here. Fruitful discussions followed, leading to possible collaboration and crossover activities. The opportunity was also taken to learn about new computing and processing techniques being developed in the Innsbruck group (using GPU processing for hydraulic simulations) and to discuss contrasting open source modelling frameworks being developed by both groups.

After five days of excellent discussions and collaboration, the Newcastle delegation took some time on the Saturday to see the other sights that Innsbruck had to offer before catching the sleeper train back home.

Dr Barr scales the peak (this time on the cable car instead of on foot!)

Unfortunately the snow wasn’t quite deep enough for any alpine sports, although I wouldn’t want to try this one anyway:

The view down the Bergisel ski jump, used in the 1976 Winter Olympics. Scary...

Thanks to Wolfgang and his group at Innsbruck for being such excellent hosts, and look out for news of future collaborations between the two groups.

The End


Newcastle Geospatial Engineering part of the OSGEO labs for Research and Education

Press release:

We are pleased to announce the establishment of Open Source Geospatial Research and Education Laboratory at the University of Newcastle, United Kingdom. The laboratory is one of the members of a worldwide network developed under the auspices of the ICA-OSGeo Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

In 2011, the International Cartographic Association (ICA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) with a view to develop global collaboration opportunities for academia, industry and government organisations in the field of open source GIS software and data. The MoU aims to provide expertise and support for the establishment of Open Source Geospatial Laboratories and Research Centres across the world to support the development of open source geospatial software technologies, training and expertise.

Newcastle University  is one of the leading geospatial research group in the UK and have very strong research and teaching expertise and well developed CPD programs etc.  The Open Source Geospatial Research and Education Laboratory  is run by the Geospatial Engineering Research Group but draws heavily on interactions with other research groups and partners within the University, nationally and internationally. The Geospatial Engineering Group supports the development and training of Open Source Geospatial technologies by utilising these technologies to carry out fundamental research and to deliver geospatial solutions to engineering problems.   They also provide training both as part of thier Undergraduate degree programmes in Surveying and Mapping Science, Geographic Information Science and Physical Geography as well as through short training courses.

Open Source Geospatial Research and Education  Lab at Newcastle University is led by Dr Philip James. Key members of the lab are Dr Stuart Barr,Dr David Fairbairn,Dr Rachel Gaulton,David Alderson,Alistair Ford ,Dr Pauline Miller and Neil Harris.

The website of the new lab is at

Over the last 6 months,  we have a rapidly expanding network of Open Geospatial Labs and we are now in the process of setting up Open Geospatial Lab Network node site within OSGeo website  so that all participating labs urls can be added to this.

We are actively working in expanding this ICA-OSGeo initiative ( globally in our aim to bring the benefits of geospatial technology to all.

We especially welcome applications from universities, educational institutes, government organisations in developing countries to develop capacity building in geospatial education by establishing Open Source Geo Labs. Details of how to apply for OSGeo Lab is at

We wish you all the best for the Holiday Season and the New Year.

Best Wishes,

Dr Suchith Anand

Nottingham Geospatial Institute
Nottingham Geospatial Building

University of Nottingham NG7 2 TU
Tel: (0)115 82 32750

New team members

We welcome a few new members to the Geospatial Engineering group at Newcastle at the start of this new academic year. There are two more students starting their PhD’s with us and a new member of staff. More details on their roles and research interests will published as they settle into life in the department.