GIS Masters Students Graduate

Congratulations!! Today saw the graduation of the 2012/13 cohort of Edinburgh’s GIS students, joining an alumni network of more than 700 from the longest-established GIS programme in the world. In the spectacular setting of the University of Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall, Principal and Vice Chancellor Sir Timothy O’Shea conferred degrees on our students, following the one-year intensive programme, which is recognised as world-beating.

Students from China, Germany, Ireland, Kuwait, Mexico and the USA, as well as the UK, joined staff for a celebratory reception in the Playfair Library in Old College. Amanda Carlson received the Best Student Award, while David Cooper and Amanda shared the Best Dissertation Award.  Peter Schmiz was rewarded for his Web Presentation. Prizes were presented by Prof Sandy Tudhope, Head of GeoSciences, along with John Alderson, Chairman of Informed Solutions, who sponsored the awards. The University has maintained a 20-year relationship with Informed Solutions, who have employed a number of our graduates. Neil Stuart, Chairman of the Exam Board and one of the GIS teaching team commented “It is fantastic to see our students graduating and I wish them every success, while knowing that most of them already have jobs, confirming our remarkable record in placing our graduates in employment.”


EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review (joint with Hutton Club) : Prof. Sanjeev Gupta : 22nd Nov

This Friday’s joint seminar between the EEO-AGI(S) and Hutton Club was presented by Prof. Sanjeev Gupta with the title of “Curiosity: Sedimentological Adventures on Mars”. The talk enlightened us on the context of NASA’s $2.7bn Curiosity mission and the importance that sedimentology and stratigraphy play in determining whether life has arisen on another planet.

Prof. Gupta’s involvement with the Curiosity mission started through a vocational visit to the NASA site selection for the project where he became involved in a heated debate with physicists over their views on sedimentology and subsequently became part of the project.

The Mars robot used for the Curiosity mission is an extreme engineering feat; the instrument itself is around the size of a Mini Cooper and weighs over a tonne.  Technological specifications include seventeen cameras with different purposes, an infrared laser to establish changes in rock type and a range of geochemistry instruments, such as three mass spectrometers for rock composition and atmospheric chemistry.  Prof. Gupta stated that each day on the Curiosity mission is treated as if the rover might die tomorrow, which enables the team to achieve the maximum data possible.  This includes a ridged daily schedule to ensure that the project runs smoothly.  Only two hours in each morning are allocated to determining what scientific data is to be collected.  The rest of the day is about collation with engineers on what is realistically attainable and programming the robot to achieve the desired outcome.  This is a rigorous process and any errors in the code could be catastrophic for the whole project.

A number of interesting results are now beginning to be acquired from the Curiosity mission, leading the team to new and exciting discoveries.  The purpose of the mission in general is about habitability and this is down to finding which rocks exist on the planet’s surface, this is especially hard as they had no map to guide them.  The team have acquired a number of in situ observations that point toward fluvial processes carved by ancient Martian Rivers. Building strength against other arguments that the landforms were created by either CO2 or lava flow.

Thus far the Curiosity mission has discovered a huge heterogeneity of rock types and is displaying a whole world on Mars that has never been seen before.  Prof. Gupta concluded by stating that the team is now moving on to analyse Mount Sharp and the Gale Crater starting in August 2014. This is an exciting prospect for the mission, as they have no idea what to expect.  The stratified nature of the crater has great potential for analysis, which could point to lake deposits furthering their hope of discovering evidence of life on Mars.

— Alison Rourke-McBride
(MSc in GIS at University of Edinburgh)

GIS students start Dissertations

The students on our Master’s programme in GIS took part in a Dissertation Mixer in the prestigious Upper Library in Old College today, with staff and experts from the GIS industry, to celebrate the start of the start of their dissertations.  All manner of research topics were discussed, connections made and contacts established. We look forward to some excellent work over the coming months.

Moving Mountains

The BBC reported tonight that Knight’s Peak, on Skye’s Pinnacle Ridge, has been re-surveyed and shown to be lower than previously thought – reduced from 3002 feet (915m) to 2999 feet and six inches, or 914m. The significance is that this has brought a reclassification from a Munro Top to a lesser Corbett Top. The Gazetteer for Scotland was duly updated. The surveyors used GPS technology.  I do hope they realise that GPS isn’t terribly accurate in the z-dimension?

Geographical Puzzles

I like puzzles, especially geographical ones.  That’s what really interests me about my Gazetteer for Scotland project – its the interesting places, the unusual, the stories that can be told.  So when a gentleman contacted the School of GeoSciences to asking the following, I was intrigued:

As a youngster there was a story that went around to the effect that there was an underground stream/river that ran from somewhere in the Craiglockhart area and ran through Gorgie coming out at Roseburn roughly where Murrayfield stands today.

I had an inkling there was indeed more than one culverted stream in W Edinburgh, and inspection of the First Edition of the Ordnance Survey Six Inch map showed this to be true.  The stream the gentleman was eluding to was recorded as the Gorgie Burn, which once powered mills in that part of the city, mills which later became the Glue and Gelatine Manufactory of J & G Cox. According to the map, the stream rose in Craiglockhart Pond and fell into a mill lade, which abstracted water from the Water of Leith. Was the stream still there?  Well Craiglockart Pond drains into a concrete plug-hole, and having cycled down the route of the stream, according to the map, there was no sign and no clues.  I did find a modest outflow in Roseburn Park, beyond Murrayfield but was assured by a seemingly knowledgeable Council worker that this just drained floodwater from the rugby stadium.  Further map work suggested the stream began as the Meggetland Burn, becoming the Moat Burn and then the Gorgie Burn.  I contacted a friend who is involved with the Friends Of Craiglockhart Woods and Nature Trail. They had always wondered where the Pond drained to, but were able to put me on to a local historian, who had yet another name for the stream: the Megget Burn. I contacted the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and they had never heard of any of these and had no idea.  They were very interested if I turned up anything. They suggested Edinburgh Councrobinil, and with the help of their Flood and Water Services staff, a little more map work and a further bit of field work, the mystery was solved.  There is a stream, it run entirely in a culvert, and falls into the Water of Leith some distance west of its original outfall, because the old mill lade has long been filled in.  (The photo shows the rather unimpressive outflow).  So if you want to know how a Gazetteer for Scotland entry is written, that’s a pretty good explanation. You can read the entry on the Moat or Gorgie Burn for more information.

The Council had a further interesting comment: “Water courses are in riparian ownership, so are the property of the owner of the land through which they pass“.  I wonder how many landowners know this passes through their property, or will they get a shock when the culvert collapses one day?

One further point, illustrative of the tangents that are inevitable with a project such as this: John Cox of the Glue Manufactory (isn’t that a lovely word, so much better than the modern contraction “factory”) was concerned for the health of his fellow Edinburghers, so much so that he was responsible for creating the remarkable Royal Patent Gymnasium, and you can read all about that in the GfS entry for the little-known King George V Park. Enjoy!

Bruce Gittings welcomes Prof Iain Stewart to University of Edinburgh

Bruce Gittings, in his role as Vice Chair of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), welcomed television-geologist Prof Iain Stewart to the University of Edinburgh tonight.  Prof Stewart presented a talk entitled Scotland beneath our Feet in the University’s David Hume Tower Lecture Theatre, part of the regular series of ‘Inspiring People’ talks offered by the RSGS. Prof Stewart, who also serves as RSGS President, delved into the long and fascinating geological history of Scotland, the country where scientific pioneers made ground-breaking discoveries in the landscape to explain how our planet works. The talk attracted a capacity audience, including members of the public, university students and over 100 school pupils. Prof Alison McCleery of Napier University introduced Prof Stewart, while Bruce Gittings gave the vote of thanks.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr Mathias Disney : 1st Nov

This past Friday brought a joint seminar between the EEO-AGI(S) and Hutton Club brought Dr. Mathias Disney to the Old Library of Drummond Street to present his wide-ranging and interesting seminar entitled: “From Hollywood to the Carbon Cycle: 3D Vegetation modelling for remote sensing applications.”

The intriguing title seemed to smash two very different worlds together: Disney? Hollywood? 3D Vegetation Modelling? Remote sensing applications? Not only that, but as we arrived in our seats, the film references continued with the title’s subtext: “(or how I learned to stop worrying and love Structure).” Dr. Disney then embarked on a wide-ranging and interesting talk which did not include any more Kubrick, but instead brought us from wildfires in Angola, to tree canopies in Queensland, Australia, to controlled burns in Kruger National Park, South Africa and finally to a jungle in Gabon. Yet as diverse as these topics seem, he neatly tied them together with his work in remote sensing and 3D modelling.

Dr. Disney may not be related to the animation giant of yore (as far as I know) but he is bringing quite interesting Tinsel Town techniques to the field of remote sensing. While movie studios use 3D animation to make objects and vegetation look as realistic as possible, he has been working on making them be as realistic as possible, so they are able use the information in the most quantitative way. He has been working with 3D Monte Carlo Ray Tracing Process (MCRT), which simulates the absorption and scattering of light in realistic scenes. Formerly this was a limited option scientifically, but as computing power has grown, more sample can be used and in turn more precision and detail returned.

Canopy structure is an important concept for Dr. Disney. In order to create an accurate model for vegetation, MCRT requires the 3D structure of the vegetation. He and his colleges have been working with airborne LIDAR, where in the air they are able to directly measure canopy height and structure of great tracts of forest, but ground-based LIDAR is also growing in application for modelling and estimating biomass. Formerly measuring biomass was a difficult, destructive process where a tree had to be chopped down and every component measured, but his preliminary research indicates they are able to derive the volume of tree structure with LIDAR and from that biomass. This technique could potentially save huge amounts of time and money.

Ground based LIDAR can produce a spatial representation of the scanned area in the form of a 3D point cloud. By converting these point clouds into topological description of tree structure they are able to create some fascinating models, like this animated journey through Lope National Park in Gabon, or in another case, Billy, the local elephant.

Dr. Disney’s work is fascinating confluence of instruments, models and applications. If only Dr. Strangelove had been more concerned about vegetation structure…

– William Blomstedt
(MSc in GIS at University of Edinburgh)