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Land use in the Thames Estuary

Watch Dr Jon Blower explain how access to a wide variety of datasets was valuable for a project the IEA carried out on land use in the Thames Estuary
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So I’d like to tell you a little bit about a project that we’ve recently been working on with some of our partners and with the Environment Agency, who are particularly interested in looking at what’s happening in the Thames Estuary, and the London area, and further east towards the sea. One of the reasons I picked this example is one, because it shows a large number of datasets being used to address a given problem. And that was a really key requirements of the Environment Agency, to be able to bring together all kinds of information about the Estuary to understand what’s going on.
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But also because we worked as an IEA partnership in this project, we involved some of our colleagues in Telespazio and Deimos who would provide some of the satellite imagery that we would use and do some processing for us. We used to a large variety of datasets in this particular project, both big and small. We used data from commercial satellite providers, including COSMO-SkyMed, Deimos, and WorldView. But we also use some of the free satellite data that’s being released by the Sentinel programme. The free data slightly lower resolution than the commercial data, but we, because of its free nature, we can access large amounts of it without incurring large costs.
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And therefore, we can build up a good picture of what’s going on in the Estuary. So behind me, we have a number of datasets already being shown. So I’m going to take one of them off to make it a little bit easier to see what’s going on. So there, I’ve taken the satellite data away just for the moment, just to show the standard kind of mapping data that we have behind this. The dots represent things like locations of car parks, or they might represent planning applications, or they might represent flood zones. And this is what you might call a standard mapping application.
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Well, what we want to do is to bring in some new data sources here to address the problem. So what I’ve just brought in there is a high resolution, what we call an optical image from satellite. So this is what we might see if we were flying up there in the sky looking down upon London. So the colours are chosen to look like natural colours. And it will look like what you would see on an application like Google Earth or Google Maps. But in fact, there’s a lot more information in that satellite data that we’re not necessarily using to produce this particular image.
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And so I’ll show you a different way of viewing the same image to illustrate what I mean.
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Instead of being processed to look like how our eyes would see it, this is being processed to pick out particular types of land cover type, in other words, to make a better separation between roads, vegetation, buildings, and the water. And so you can see the different colours behind me are representing those different land cover classes. And if we do that for a series of images, we can look at how those classes change over time and whether we see a new building being built, a building being taken down for example, or changes in the extents of the river, or whatever that might be.
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This image now is perhaps a little bit harder to interpret, but the orange polygons that you see behind me are locations where we’ve detected using a different type of satellite, in this case of radar satellite, that a change has occurred. And so this might be a change that we might not be interested in, such as a car park filling up and emptying between two successive images, for example. Or it may be a building being built that we really want to monitor, because that might have an impact on the local environment.
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One of the ways we can distinguish between those two types of changes is by bringing in all these other data sets and looking at them together to build up a complete picture of what’s going on. So by combining mapping data, satellite data, data about planning, data about where floods have previously occurred, and many other things, we can start to build up a picture of really what’s going on. This is one of our demonstrator projects, which means it was a relatively short project that we use in order to test the feasibility of an idea or to raise awareness of the potential of maybe the use of satellite data or the use of combining different data sources to address a problem.
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So we’ve just come to the end of this project. And what we’re going to do next is talk with a wider variety of stakeholders who have an interest in monitoring what’s going on in the Thames Estuary to understand where we could take this next.
In this video, Dr Jon Blower discusses a project which combined big and small, open and commercial data to investigate the areas around the Thames Estuary. He explains how access to a wide variety of datasets can be valuable for projects.
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Big Data and the Environment

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