Pastures new for the nearly done boys

In the past few months two of our current PhD students have departed for pastures new, but of course neither could leave the field of geospatial science and technology.

Shaun has joined Ordnance Survey working within their photogrammetry team and assisting with the digitising of data from the collected aerial imagery. However, as an unforeseen consequence of this move (for this born and bread Newcastle supporter), he now wears the red and white colours of his adopted running club in Southampton. I’m not too sure he will ever live this down…

More recently Dan has left the group after six and a half (some may say eventful) years; three years as an undergraduate and the remainder as a PhD student. He has moved to AMEC in Shrewsbury where he now works as a GIS consultant. To our surprise we have been told the England students and lion’s student rugby league player has also retired from rugby as a result of this move, though we would not be surprised to hear otherwise when he next returns.

Good luck to them both and no doubt we will be seeing them again as they return for meetings and their viva’s throughout the next 6 months.

Geospatial in Budapest

The central location of Vienna has allowed me to engage with some more people in the past few weeks. I and the other two members of the International Cartographic Association Statutes Committee, Ferjan Ormeling (Netherlands) and Bengt Rystedt (Sweden) met here a couple of weeks ago to discuss proposals for the ICA General Assembly in August. We were joined by my host here, ICA President Georg Gartner, and the Secretary-General Laszlo Zentai from nearby Budapest. Ferjan, Bengt and myself also form half of the Working Group on International Map Year ( and were able to make some further plans for this UN endorsed event. My ICA work in helping organise our Commission workshop in Curitiba in August continues from afar.

I spent a couple of days in Budapest this week – giving a seminar on VGI at the Eotvos Lorand University Department of Cartography & Geoinformation (a lively group of half a dozen staff and plenty students). It was good to meet again with Laszlo’s colleagues with wide ranging interests (Matyas Gede is currently exploring cave surveying and 3D visualisation, along with citizen mapping of tourist activity; Zsolt Torok is a historian of cartography, but also researches eye tracking; Andrea Podor, from a nearby university, examines environmental GIS and educational issues).

Back in Vienna I have been meeting with colleagues in my extensive host department, Geodesy and Geoinformation which has 7 research groups ( Gerhard Navratil in Geoinformation has interesting views on the topic of VGI and cadastral systems, which I am continuing to engage with Kaizer and Mustafa back in Newcastle. And Gottfried Mandelburger, familiar to Newcastle geomaticians having spent some time with us, has discussed further the archaeological work I have been interested in doing with LiDAR.

I’ve been doing some ‘map use studies’ by finding orienteering events to participate in whilst here – and it’s great that some wonderful terrain is available so close to Vienna and accessible by public transport. I even had a run in the suburbs of Budapest in torrential rain one hour after my seminar finished: a bit beyond the call of duty, but good training for a main event – the academic orienteering championships at the Danube Park next week (yes, there are enough university staff and students in Vienna to have a formal closed championship).

David Fairbairn

Geospatial in the USA

Last week’s trip to the USA reminded me how cartography and GIS are central to American academic geography. I was invited to the Geography and Geology department of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) to give a research presentation on my work using LiDAR-sourced data to examine archaeological landscapes. It was good to join later in some of Mike Peterson’s classes: it was clear that his new book, ‘Mapping in the Cloud’, acts as an excellent basis for the syllabus of a course on web mapping. I also discussed the August pre-conference joint ICA Commissions (Education & Training/Maps & the Internet) workshop in Curitiba, Brazil: I chair the former, and Rex Cammack from UNO the latter, so we were able to firm up some of the co-organisation in person.

A couple of days later and 500 miles to the east, the AAG conference in Chicago beckoned and my Education & Training hat was retained, presenting a paper about accreditation in cartography, participating in a panel discussion about the role of cartography in GIS education, and invited to sit in with the luminaries on the UCGIS board crafting the extended ‘Body of Knowledge’ in GIS&T. There was also time to visit the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Volume 6 of the History of Cartography (published by the University of Chicago Press, and covering the 20th century) was launched. At 1,960 pages with 1200 illustrations, in two enormous volumes, it was astonishing to see the magnum opus in print. Luckily, contributors have been offered a .PDF copy, so I did not have to check in excess baggage at the airport …

Back in Vienna this week, I visited Gilbert Kotzbek at the Universitat Wien (which celebrates its 650th birthday this year). I have been discussing his PhD work on the use of GIS to examine football data with him for some time now, and he has created some excellent Python-scripted ArcGIS tools to input, filter, and analyse the staggering amount of spatial and attribute data captured during a game and interpreted after (1/25th second interval positional data for every player and ball, plus information about every event – tackle, throw-in, offside, corner etc). What’s missing in the data is the third dimension – it would be interesting to contrast the style of a long-ball team which keeps the ball in the air a lot, with a close-passing, tiki-taka side. I also had the chance to remind myself of teaching in a classroom, when I had a class with the 15 students of the International Masters MSc course in Cartography (who are all studying in Vienna this semester, having been at Dresden and Munich for previous semesters). This is a very international bunch from Egypt, China, Canada etc and closer to home from close-by Slovakia. The topic was VGI, so I was able to convey some of the thoughts which came out of Maythm Al-Bakri’s PhD study from a couple of years ago, and outline what Kaizer and Mustafa are doing in Newcastle now.

bis zum nächsten Mal …

David Fairbairn


A group of 6 staff and PhD students attended the annual UK GIS conference (GISRUK) being hosted by Leeds University. With all but one presenting (though now GISRUK regular Phil James was named on three of the six presentations), the groups diverse and interdisciplinary range of work which related to GIS was well covered.

Congratulations must be given to Neil Harris and Craig Robson who won best paper for their paper entitled “Real time coupled network failure modelling and visualisation”. No doubt this was (at least in part anyway) down to a live demonstration by Neil during the presentation of the developed software/framework which worked (or so it appeared to those less who hadn’t seen it before!). See below for a link to the abstract and presentation.

It was also good to see a number of alumni who have continued to work in the field of GIS upon departing our department after three years of study.

Finally a thanks to organizing committee for putting together a great conference and for the bursary awarded to Craig.

The official conference proceedings can be found here.

Links to the six presentations (and abstracts) are below:

  • “Real time coupled network failure modelling and visualisation”,  Neil Harris, Craig Robson, Stuart Barr and Phil James (Winning paper).
  • “Assessing the need for infrastructure adaptation by simulating impacts of extreme weather events on urban transport infrastructure”, Alistair Ford, Maria Pregnolato, Katie Jenkins, Stuart Barr, and Richard Dawson.
  • “Evolutionary Computing for Multi-Objective Spatial Optimisation”,  Daniel Caparros-Midwood, Stuart Barr and Richard Dawson.
  • “A geospatial relational database schema for interdependent network analysis and modelling”, David Alderson, Stuart Barr, Tomas Holderness, Craig Robson, Alistair Ford and Ruth Kennedy-Walker.
  • “Football fan locality- An analysis of football fans tweet locations”, Neil Harris and Phil James.
  • “Spatially modelling dependent infrastructure networks”, Craig Robson, Stuart Barr, Phil James and Alistair Ford

Geospatial in Vienna

It has been a good start to my two month sabbatical in Vienna.  Georg Gartner and his  team at the Technical University (TU) Wien Cartography department have been most welcoming, and my apartment (rented on the viewing of web-site photos alone) is gemutlich.  It is great to be staying in one of my favourite cities.

I remember watching the 2006 World Cup final in a bar in Vienna full of excited Italians.  By contrast, the Liverpool-Newcastle game was dull fare earlier this week: Flanagan’s was still smoky (I’d forgotten what watching a game in a bar where smoking is still allowed is like), but the capitulation of the Toon was no excitement for the (extremely small number of) black and whites.  From the ridiculous to the sublime, the walk back home took me past the final aria of that night’s Opera performance, being beamed live from inside the Vienna Opera House to a sizeable crowd outside.

Included in that crowd I spotted Prof Ana-Maria Coutinho, opera buff and cartography academic from Rio de Janeiro (also vice director of the forthcoming International Cartographic Conference in Brazil in August).  I caught up with her later in the week when she visited the department at the TU.  We had a good chat about the joint ICA Commission on Education &Training/Commission on Maps & the Internet workshop which I am co-organising in Curitiba, before the main event in Rio.

I have been able to put the finishing touches to my presentations for next week in the US, and also finalised some proposals in liaison with the Newcastle archaeologists.  And the texts for the Rio proceedings are due this month – my solo one already in, the paper by Kaizer, Phil and myself just about ready to go.

Auf wiedersehen …

Dr David Fairbairn

RSPSoc Wavelength 2015

From Monday 30th March till Wednesday 1st April, the department hosted the annual Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society (RSPSoc) Wavelength Conference. Since it’s rebranding from the student conference, which was last hosted in Newcastle nine years ago, young professionals are now also welcome to present their research and latest developments in all aspects of remote sensing and photogrammetry. The conference was organised by third year PhD student, Andrew McClune, whose research is focussing on the automatic reconstruction of 3D building models from aerial photography.

The conference was well attended by approximately 40 delegates, mainly from UK institutes but with some travelling from as far as Nigeria and Turkey especially for the conference. A wide range of research topics were presented. The opening session was dedicated to the research of  dust & gas detection from satellite platforms, before second year PhD student Magdalena Smigaj, presented her work entitled ‘’Remote sensing for UK forest health monitoring” in the first of the two vegetation sessions. The final session of the first day was a keynote session given by the International Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) Council members, who were in the area for an ISPRS Council meeting. Chen Jun opened with an introduction to the society before Christian Heipke, Leibniz Universität Hannover, and Marguerite Madden, University of Georgia, discussed their individual research topics “New approaches for automatic classification or aerial and satellite images” and “Geospatial Information Supporting Animal Movement and Habitat Studies”, respectively. The final day was closed with a meal at Blackfriars Restaurant, where ISPRS Council members and delegates continued to network and discuss research.

The conference prides itself on offering a strong scientific and social programme, with Tuesday morning being designated to the first batch of social activities. Whilst a small group went to battle it out over the annual game of laser quest, a local tour guide led the rest of the delegates around the many scenic delights that Newcastle has to offer. Although the weather did not hold up with a heavy downpour encountered mid-tour, the tour gave an insight into the history development of the city. The tour started along the Quayside visiting the many bridges along the river before working their way back to the University via the castle, Grainger market and Grey’s Monument.

Presentations resumed after lunch with the urban management topic which saw presenters from GetMapping UK present their street level imagery dataset and the online GIS platform for local parish councils, as well as the use of historical imagery for assessing planned urbanization. The second oral session of the day saw the second vegetation session of the conference and included the winner of Best Oral Presentation from Emily Norton, from Bournemouth University for her research entitled “Multi-Temporal remote sensing of mass graves in temperate environments”. She was proudly presented with a remote sensing book, kindly donated from sponsors Taylor & Francis.

A wide range of poster were presented towards the end of the second day with second year PhD Elias Berra discussing “Forest phenology monitoring by unmanned aerial vehicle” and first years Ben Grayson and Fikiri Mhenga presenting their proposed PhDs researching “Digital photogrammetric techniques in aid of UAV trajectory determination” and “Using remotely sensed products for improved hydrological models in high mountain hydrological regimes.” The final session of the second day was a sponsor session, where representative from Sterling Geo presented the latest developments of the ERDAS software suite whilst promoting the CHEST agreement, which entitles universities to purchased licences for the software at a heavily reduced price.

The second day finished with a meal on the Quayside before the second social event of the conference which saw delegates go bowling. For some it was their first time and they either took to bowling like a duck to water or were experiencing some beginners luck.

The final day was opened with a session dedicated to disaster management and prevention, which saw Maria Peppa and Polpreecha Chidburee, both second year Newcastle PhDs presented their individual PhD research topics entitled “Development of a UAV-based landslide monitoring system” and “Development of a low-cost, real-time photogrammetric monitoring system for landslide hazard analysis”. This was followed by a session of data integration before the conference was closed with a keynote address from David Holland, Ordnance Survey, presenting research on the creation of 3D datasets, a topic which he has been supervising Andrew on as part of his PhD.

A big thank you to the staff and PhD students that helped in the organisation and success of the conference, as well as Edward Malina from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, part of University College London. Edward will now become the Wavelength Rep for RSPSoc and will now start to organise the next Wavelength conference in 2016.

Wavelength Delegates

Wavelength Delegates


Instrumenting the City – @FutureCitiesCatapult

Just come back from a great workshop organised by Charlie Catlett from the University of Chicago Urban Center for Computation and Data and the Argonne National Laboratory. The outcome from this workshop has been a draft US/UK draft proposal for instrumenting cities. All we need now is the funding!

Charlie and Pete choosing Plan B - the wired option for Instrumenting the CIty

Charlie and Pete choosing Plan B – the wired option for Instrumenting the CIty

The workshop was hosted at the Future Cities Catapult new Urban Innovation Centre (freshly opened and still smelling of paint – btw geo people apparently the OS is taking a floor there for their Research and Innovation group). Over 2 days we discussed solar powered mini cells from Jacqueline Cole at Cambridge University/Argonne and were introduced to the Waggle platform and Array of Things by Pete Beckman and Rajesh Sankaran from the Argonne Lab – just a small part of the great stuff going on in Chicago. We also heard from Intel/Imperial’s Duncan Wilson about the work they are doing in London with Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cites and the plans for instrumenting York from Alistair Boxall and the Capacitie project. One of the highlights was a tour of Umbrellium’s offices (and good Vietnamese food) in the company of Usman Haque the founder of Umbrellium ( and other things). Usman founded Pachube the sensor upload and data service.

We have already agreed to host some of Jacqui’s mini solar cell powered sensors and have already started to look at integrating Plenario (UCCD’s platform for displaying city metrics) as it is built on the same PostgreSQL/PostGIS/Python stack that we use for the Urban Observatory. Might be planning a trip to Chicago shortly!

Geospatial engineering in the Caribbean again!

As part of my work on the CARIWIG project I have been lucky enough to visit the Caribbean on 4 separate occasions. These, despite the speculations from my colleagues, have been work packed trips with the majority of my time being spent in a windowless heavily air-conditioned room. My latest trip saw myself and Phil James from Geospatial engineering visit Barbados where we took part in the CARIWIG training event (which took place in various windowless rooms).

We were there presenting the work that we have done putting together the CARIWIG portal which is a portal designed to let the user visualise, graph and download both historical and simulated future cliamte datasets, as well as allowing the user to run a number of simulations across the region. For slightly more information see here

Gridded data viewer on the portal

Gridded data viewer on the portal


Tropical storm model on the portal

Tropical storm model on the portal


Over the 3 days participants were introduced to the tools put together for the project and how they are run on the portal. They were then given time to use these tools to conduct their own mini case studies, with them then reporting their findings back to the group.

Overall the event was a great success with participants fully engaging with the tools put together and seeing their potential. And from a personal point of view, they liked the interface and found it intuitive. Plus there were 0 internal server errors, even when a entire room of people all ran the tropical storm model at the same time!


One of the nicest views on the island



SESYNC Workshop on Integrated Modelling

Alistair Ford from the Geospatial Engineering group was recently invited to Annapolis, USA for a workshop on “Development of a Prototype of an Integrated Modeling System for Socio-Economic and Environmental Analysis to Promote Sustainability at the Regional Level”. This workshop was hosted by SESYNC, the US National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, with a view to setting up a regional modelling framework for use in Maryland and Chesapeake Bay.


Rolf Moekel and Gerrit Knaap from the University of Maryland are working on integrating transport, land-use, climate change, and envirnomental models together in order to understand future changes and pressures in the region. First up, Peter Claggett presented the Chesapeake Bay Land Change Model:

Presentation about CBLCM here.

Brian Gregor from Oregon Department of Transportation then presented his R modelling framework for transport and sustainability modelling called GreenSTEP. This allows the testing of many scenarios of land-use and transport futures to understand the impacts on GHGs. The framework consists of a number of R modules and the resultant scenarios (upwards of 200 in one example!) can be interrogated and explored in a Javascript interface.

Brian Gregor’s presentation is available here.

Another interesting presentation was from Brian Deal of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who talked about his LEAM model.  This is a mixed cellular automata and zonal land-use model which run dynamically under uncertainty. It can produce thousands of scenarios and link them to impact models such as flood, water demand, or air quality models.

Brian Deal’s presentation is here.

A number of presentations also talked about data and model integration platforms. Scott Peckham from University of Colorado talked about the EarthCube and CSDMS model integration systems that aim to link together disparate models of similar areas. Tom Bulatewicz from Kansas State University presented the OpenMI model integration platform, and Todd BenDor from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill presented the iRODS database integration plaform which allows the creation of a data grid to collate, curate, update, and link databases.

Scott Peckham’s presentation on CSDMS/EarthCube

Tom Bulatewicz on OpenMI

Todd BenDor on iRODS

The workshop was a very interesting event, with discussions on model complexity, integration, provenance of results, uncertainty, and presentation. The project will be one to watch!

5th ESA Advanced Training Course on Land Remote Sensing

City of Arts and Science, Valencia

City of Arts and Science, Valencia

Last September (2014), I was fortunate to attend the 5th Advanced Training Course on Land Remote Sensing, organised by the European Space Agency (ESA) as part of the Scientific Exploitation of Operational Missions (SEOM) programme. This 5-day course took place at University of Valencia, in the sunny eastern Spain, gathering together early career researchers from various countries in an attempt to train the next generation of Earth Observation scientists. This extremely intensive training, delivered by top researchers in the field, covered a wide area of topics and left its participants craving for even more knowledge.

The course was divided into two main groups: SAR and Optical/Thermal, with the second’s programme reported below. The first two days mostly focused on expanding the participants overall knowledge on optical and thermal remote sensing, with advanced sessions provided by J. Moreno and J. Sobrino (Univ. of Valencia). These sessions included, among others, a particularly interesting talk on satellite signal modelling (covering the limitations of currently used leaf and canopy models), as well as a presentation on methods of information extraction and validation. It was followed by an overview of thermal imagery pre-processing steps and methods of land temperature retrieval.

Following this introductory take on remote sensing data processing and signal modelling, the time had come for more specialised sessions; M. Caetano (Foundation of Science and Technology, Portugal) gave a presentation about land cover and land use change monitoring. The applied sessions continued on throughout the third day, with E. Chuvieco (Univ. of Alcalá, Spain) introducing us to fire detection and assessment of its effects, and F. Baret (INRA-CSE, France) speaking about the use of remote sensing techniques for agriculture applications.

On the fourth day, importance was given to multitemporal analysis. L. Bruzzone (Univ. of Trento, Italy) gave an excellent presentation on methods of change detection, which are currently used for various data types (multispectral, VHR multispectral, SAR, VHR SAR and hyperspectral imagery). He also briefly presented an example of multisensor change detection with use of multispectral and SAR data. The day finished with a presentation given by G. Camps-Valls (Univ. of Valencia) on hyperspectral image processing. The last day brought lecture sessions on various remote sensing applications, with E. Tomelleri (EURAC, Italy) giving a talk on carbon cycling and ecosystem modelling, W. Wagner (TU Wien, Austria) on hydrology and climate change monitoring, and T. Wright (Univ. of Leeds, UK) talking about earthquakes and volcanoes observation.

Valencia Cathedral at Plaza de la Virgen (city centre)

Valencia Cathedral at Plaza de la Virgen (city centre)

Apart from the knowledge-packed programme, the organisers offered the participants a chance to present their work to the rest of the attendees. During the evening poster session, I presented the current progress of my PhD project, entitled “Remote Sensing of Forest Health in UK”, in which I am investigating the potential of integration of different remote sensing data sources for detection of disease stress symptoms. As the course came to an end, the time had come to say goodbye to warm and sunny Valencia and face the reality of coming back to Newcastle.

I would like to thank the RSPSoc for the invaluable financial help, allowing me to attend this course.

Magdalena Smigaj (2nd Year PhD Student)


Note: All of the abovementioned lectures were filmed and are currently available at ESA’s website within the “Space in Videos” section. They can also be accessed through: