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Research Experience Placement with NCEO

Vidhi and Emaan our summer work placement students describe what is was like to work for NCEO

I’m Vidhi, currently in my final year of Urban Studies at Loughborough University. Net Zero has been a significant part of my studies when developing policies to regenerating cities thus I was very keen to build more knowledge and understanding of Net Zero.
I’m Emaan, a 3rd year Materials Science & Engineering student at Imperial College London. I was interested in learning about the different applications of characterisation techniques used in the field of Earth Observation.

Over the summer, we completed a Research Experience Placement with NCEO (National Centre for Earth Observation) at Space Park Leicester. The placement was supported by the Central England NERC Training Alliance (CENTA).

During the project we worked with Bruker EM27/SUN spectrometers, understanding how they use near-infrared radiation from the Sun to measure greenhouse gases in a column through the atmosphere. These spectrometers are going to be used to develop the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Monitoring Network to Inform Net-Zero Initiatives for the UK (GEMINI-UK) and the focus of the project was to help develop this. GEMINI-UK is part of a wider NERC-funded programme called GEMMA (Greenhouse gas Emissions Measurement and Modelling Advancement) which aims to develop a system allowing the UK to accurately measure and assess changes in its greenhouse gas emissions, driven by data from a range of atmospheric measurements and models. This programme will inform the UK’s progress towards its national target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to “net-zero” by 2050.

Before deployment across the UK, the spectrometers needed to be tested. To do this, we had the opportunity to get hands-on and set up two instruments side-by-side on the roof at SPL, whenever the weather held up. We retrieved measurements and then analysed the data collected to determine how close the measurements from the two different spectrometers were.

Trip to Harwell

Like the EM27/SUNs, IFS 125HR FTIR spectrometers also measure greenhouse gases and is currently part of the global Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON).

The Harwell Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire is the home to both spectrometers and the scientists at The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory arranged a site-visit for us, in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

Seeing the scales of the different spectrometers in person made it easy to appreciate the benefits of the more portable EM27/SUN, with the potential of being deployed in places with less infrastructure. It was also useful to understand where the GEMINI-UK project we were working on fits in with global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and the collaboration required to achieve Net-Zero goals.

NCEO’s 15th Year Anniversary Conference

One of the biggest highlights for us was being invited to NCEO’s 15th Anniversary Conference. It gave us a nice overview of the incredible work being done within NCEO – we got to watch presentations, ranging from projects about new ways to measure land surface temperature to detecting a methane leak in the UK using satellite data.

What was most interesting was the poster session, as we were able to talk to people about their work and understand their topics in more depth. It was impressive to see how they were able to condense massive amounts of research in a way that was understandable yet informative.

There were also fun events lined up each evening, our favourite being the Gala Dinner! It gave us a chance to get to know the people behind the work. Hearing about their journey to where they are now and the passion with which they spoke about their work was incredibly inspiring.

Overall Experience

Overall, this experience was extremely valuable for us both. It gave us the opportunity to be exposed to the vast scope of Earth Observation, despite coming from quite different academic backgrounds.

It also gave us crucial insight into what it is like working in a real research environment, having the freedom to focus on what we found interesting. We were encouraged to interpret the data however we wished and, though being confronted with large datasets was daunting at first, with immense support, we were able to form our own conclusions. Deciding how best to present our findings, using Python helped developed our technical skills as well being able to set up the instruments to collect data ourselves.

Attending trips gave us a more holistic perspective, further enriching the experience, as we realised the importance of collaboration to drive research towards meaningful action. It was interesting to see the different departments involved in using research to influence policies, shape our Net-Zero goals and the role of larger organisations, like the UKRI, to fund projects.

The biggest reason why we enjoyed the placement so much were all the people we met along the way – from colleagues we worked with throughout the project to those we only met briefly. Everyone was extremely helpful and enthusiastic about their work. By interacting with such a diverse group, at various stages of their own career, we truly took away something useful from every conversation. We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such incredible people and for all the advice to consider when making our own career decisions.

Many Thanks to everyone at NCEO and Space Park Leicester! Including our supervisors Dr Robert Parker and Neil Humpage.