RPIF - Regional Planetary Image Facility


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The BBC BluePlanet

Newly discovered ocean plankton named after BBC Blue Planet.

Although measuring only thousandths of a millimetre, these plankton play a pivotal role in marine ecosystems as a crucial source of food for many ocean dwelling organisms. They are also incredibly valuable for studying the impact of climate change on ocean life now and across the previous 220 million years.
The plankton – called coccolithophores – are single cells surrounded by a calcite shell that varies drastically in shape across different species, acting as armour against predators.
“Although microscopic, the plankton are so abundant that they are visible from space as swirling blooms in the surface oceans, and form our most iconic rocks with their calcite forms making up the bulk of the white chalk cliffs and downs of southern England,” explained study co-author Professor Paul Bown.
It is the ability to produce this calcite shell that is being disrupted through ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is a symptom of climate change whereby rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, increasing its acidity.
By studying fossilised plankton shells or ‘coccoliths’ in samples from drilling down deep into the ocean bed, scientists can map the impact of climate change and other global events over a very long period of time and use this to inform what might happen to in the future.

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Published: Apr 17, 2018 6:26:00 PM



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UCL Regional Planetary Image Facility


The Regional Planetary Image Facility (RPIF) at UCL is a NASA facility that provides two fundamental roles:

  • The RPIF houses rare and unique hard-copy and digital planetary data from missions spanning four decades of space exploration, which forms part of the Geology Collection, itself part of UCL Museums and Collections.
  • The RPIF 3D facility provides hardware and software necessary for accessing, processing and analysing planetary data for internal and external users.

The UK NASA RPIF is held by UCL, one of only seven outside the USA. Our task is to provide information and data not only to professional researchers in the UK, but also the general public, students, media, school-children and their teachers about planetary missions and their latest findings.

The UCL RPIF is linked with the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck, a cross-disciplinary research group made up from three different departments and over 50 members of academic and research staff.

To visit the RPIF collection or if you’re interested in using the RPIF 3D facility, please contact us.

The RPIF Collection

Our archive includes images and other data from almost all of the NASA planetary missions since the 1960's, covering all the planetary bodies in the solar system which have been surveyed to date by spacecraft.

The data are in the form of photographic prints, negatives, slides, maps, mission information, planetary publications, and CD-ROMS. Much of the data and many of the publications are rare and cannot be found anywhere else. We are unable to provide or sell hard copies of our data, and operate as a browse only facility. Assistance with finding data in the facility can be given by RPIF members, who also frequently give school talks and provide general information on NASA planetary missions. 

The RPIF forms part of The Geology Collections, part of UCL Museums & Collections. The RPIF is open to the public, but we ask you to get in touch to organise a visit.

We also have an annual open house, with tours and talks all day. This is usually in November, and coincides with the Festival of Geology, run by the Geologists' Association at UCL.

The RPIF 3D Facility

In 2009 the RPIF extended its role to include the processing of planetary data for scientific use, particularly the production of stereo digital terrain models. We now provide the hardware and software necessary to process and produce high-resolution digital terrain models from different planetary bodies, using stereo images.

The RPIF 3D Facility uses BAE Systems SocetSet software, and a method developed by the USGS Atrogeology Science Center to produce stereo DTMs.

This facility is free to use, and after attending one of our training workshops both internal and external users are welcome to come and produce their own stereo DTMs.