UCL Department of Geography


Research Grants: Environmental Modelling and Observation

Read about some of our recent research grants

Professor Helene Burningham

Identifying coastal archaeology using multispectral satellite imagery of the intertidal zone: A pilot study

English Heritage: 2008; 2010: £37,448

The UCL Coastal & Estuarine Research Unit is the Principal Investigator in this project, which also involves The Langelands Museum Remote Sensing Unit, Denmark Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, and the Bournemouth University Centre for Archaeology, Anthropology & Heritage.

The project involves a desk-based assessment of the value of using multispectral high-resolution data to examine intertidal archaeology and morphology. It takes advantage of recent advances in remote-sensing technologies and GIS mapping capabilities to identify archaeological features, integrate a wide range of archaeological, morphological and palaeoenvironmental data, and reconstruct the coastal prehistory of the Solent, on the southern coast of England.

The project focuses on the development and assessment of the multispectral mapping technique, which has the potential to provide a cost-effective approach for monitoring, mapping and managing the coastal zone, with associated archaeological sites, particularly in regions of significant human activity.

Professor Mathias Disney

ABACUS (Arctic Biosphere Atmosphere Coupling Across Multiple Scales) project

NERC: 2006-2010: £204,594

The objective of the ABACUS project is to improve understanding of the controls on carbon, water and energy exchange between arctic terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. ABACUS is a linked programme of plant and soil process studies, isotope analyses, flux measurements, micro-meteorology, process modelling, and aircraft and satellite observations designed to improve predictions of the response of the arctic terrestrial biosphere to global change.

There is also involvement in the UK Population Biology Network, Through a NERC studentship being undertaken by Natasha Macbean. This aims to gain a better understanding of the vegetation processes under changing climate and management conditions, particularly in regard to methane emissions, using Earth Observation (EO) data. This will improve understanding of management options using satellite data for protection/enhancement in the UK uplands.

Professor Jon French

Integrated Coastal Sediment Systems (iCOASST) – Coastal Sediments Theme

NERC: 2012 – 2016: £380,116

The UCL Coastal and Estuarine Research Unit have received funding as part of a four-year £ 2.9 million research project that will deliver new methods to analyse and forecast long-term coastal landform change. UCL's role is to develop a new systems modelling framework and to lead one of the 4 main work packages, aimed at developing a new generation of mesoscale geomorphological models able to predict coastal change at timescales of decades to centuries.  Press release

Read the press release

UK Lake Ecological Observatory Network (UKLEON) – Sensor Networks Theme

NERC: 2011 – 2013: £28,509 and OTT Hydrometry: 2011 - 2014: £57,000

This work is part of a larger NERC consortium project led by CEH Lancaster and involving the universities of Glasgow, Loughborough and Lancaster and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre. The aim is to deploy state-of-the-art automated environmental instrumentation across a sample of 10 UK upland lakes to use the resulting high-time resolution datasets to model lake ecosystem dynamics and also the coherence of lake response to environmental forcing.

UCL's role is to maintain instrumentation deployed at one of the sample lakes (Round Loch of Glenhead) and to undertake statistical modelling of coherence in lake behaviour at multiple scales. This work is largely being undertaken by a PhD student funded by OTT Hydrometry Ltd under UCL's Impact Studentship scheme.

Professor Philip Lewis

Radiative transfer Modelling of Fire Impacts

European Space Agency: 2008-2010: £125,861

This ESA project is developing methods to simulate the impact of fire on optical remote sensing signals, in collaboration with Kings College, the University of London, the European Commission Joint Research Centre and San Diego State University.

Currently, we have a range of techniques for detecting the presence of wildfires in terrestrial vegetation from remote sensing, but these need to be refined to quantify the degree of fire impact. The main outcome of this project is a new method for measuring this impact, based on spectral measurements of the vegetation before and after the fire.


NERC: 2008-2010  £18,000

Fire is an important part of the dynamics of many ecosystems. It is also greatly impacted by human behaviour (e.g. for land clearance) and has consequences for global carbon budgets. Pre/post-dictions of past and future carbon balances using ecosystem models employ semi-physically-based concepts to deal with fire occurrence and spread, but the models are not currently well-constrained by observations.

This NERC QUEST project involves using remote sensing data on wildfires to calibrate and improve models of wildfire occurrence and impact using new observations of fire-effected areas from optical data and estimates of carbon release by fire from thermal observations. It is a collaboration with King’s College, the University of London, Reading and Bristol.

Earth observation land data assimilation

European Space Agency: 2009-2010  £38,500

This ESA project, run by the NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), takes the first steps in developing generic tools using data assimilation (DA) techniques to make the best use of data from multiple satellites with different characteristics for land surface monitoring.

A complex task, this essentially involves linking models of land surface dynamics to an 'observation operator' that can predict the satellite measurements based on its current estimate of the land surface state. DA techniques are widely applied in meteorology (e.g. weather forecasting) and there is much to learn in this area in applying these methods to new domains.

National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) – Carbon Theme

NERC: 2008 – 2013: £297,472

UCL Geography is a part of the NERC NCEO. Its overall aims are to improve monitoring of global and regional changes in the environment and our understanding of the Earth system so that we can predict future environmental conditions It involves collaboration between many scientists across the UK. We are most directly involved with the Carbon Theme, one of several that structure the NCEO’s work.

This developed from a previous NERC Centre of Excellence in Earth Observation (CTCD). We mainly work with other scientists on using Earth Observation data to test and improve ecological models, with a particular emphasis on carbon dynamics.

Learn more about the NCEO

Professor Richard Taylor

Global Scale Impacts of Climate Change 

NERC:  2007-2009: £177,000

Climate change impact studies on freshwater resources commonly employ a wide range of socio-economic and climate scenarios. Such variability complicates comparisons of the impacts for different socio-economic and climate futures and prevents a systematic understanding of the effects of proposed policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Using a common suite of climate and socio-economic scenarios and working with partner institutions around the world, UCL-led research assesses the impacts of climate change and future development on freshwater resources at the basin scale and quantifies uncertainty in these predictions.

Hydrological models at the basin scale allow for more explicit representations of available freshwater resources (e.g. soil water, groundwater) and demand than is permitted by global macro-scale models. They also aid the evaluation of freshwater availability predicted by these macro-scale hydrological models. Basin-scale studies also provide an excellent forum to assess indicator metrics of adaptation, risk and vulnerability defined at the global scale.

The project is part of Theme 3 of the NERC QUEST-GSI Programme (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System) investigating the global-scale impacts of climate change for a range of sectors including water resources, flooding, crops and human health. The research consortium is led by Professor Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading.

Find out more about QUEST-GSI