Satellite image
Students who completed a research project using satellite data have been celebrated by the European Space Agency (ESA) for their ‘impressive’ success.
Second-year students on the BSc (Hons) Ocean Science and Marine Conservation were tasked with completing a research project as part of a module on Marine Remote Sensing. Remote sensing is widely used in oceanography to measure, map and track a location without physically travelling there, using satellites.
Within just three weeks, the students used freely available data and tools from the European Union Copernicus Sentinel programme to explore issues ranging from monitoring shipping traffic to tracking waves to protect coral – and the ESA received the projects so positively that it shared three of the most impactful on its news pages (read the full ESA article).
Module lead and Lecturer in Marine Science, Dr Lauren Biermann, explained that while her hopes were high, she was blown away by what the students achieved. 

I was so pleased to see the students really embrace the challenge. Three weeks is such a short time to complete a research project but they managed it and the results were outstanding.

To have three pieces of student-led work shared by ESA is amazing, especially when you consider these students are still undergraduates. 
I’m really passionate about remote sensing and its usefulness across scientific disciplines – from marine and coastal to physics and computing – so to see students understand its applications too is great. 

Lauren BiermannLauren Biermann
Lecturer in Marine Science (Remote Sensing)

What the students covered

Project 1: Tackling invasive seaweeds

In the Atlantic and Caribbean, Sargassum is an invasive seaweed with widespread negative impacts. When it blooms, it can form enormous floating mats that extend over kilometres. 
Using free online neural network object detection models and Sentinel-2 data, the team of Jack Allen-Davis, Brandon Callican, Samuel Lea, Alex Mallinson and Aslak Varela showed that it is possible to automate the monitoring of Sargassum invasions.
They used Sentinel-2 data acquired over the Caribbean Sea during the 2018 Sargassum invasion. 
Alex Mallinson, Brandon Callican, Jack Allen-Davis, Samuel Lea, Aslak Varela
Alex Mallinson, Brandon Callican, Jack Allen-Davis, Samuel Lea, Aslak Varela

It was a great experience working with cutting-edge technology and seeing what it was capable of.

There’s definitely potential for future applications – if you’re going to go, go with Roboflow!
Alex Mallinson, second-year student in BSc (Hons) Ocean Science and Marine Conservation 
Eleanor Smith, Emily Robinson and Poppy Firth
Eleanor Smith, Emily Robinson and Poppy Firth

Project 2: Monitoring vessel traffic in the Suez Canal

In March 2021, one of the largest container ships ever built, the Ever Given, became stuck in the Suez Canal for nearly one week. The resulting ‘traffic jam’ cost billions in trade per day, and according to Maritime Agency, Leth, by the time the Ever Given was freed on 30 March, a record 171 vessels were queued up in the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea.
To assess the accuracy of this count, students Poppy Firth, Emily Robinson and Eleanor Smith trialled an automated object detection machine learning algorithm.
Using freely available Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data acquired by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite, the team demonstrated the value of the data and machine learning methods for automated vessel traffic monitoring.

It was a great project to get involved in as we’d never done machine learning before.

What really struck us was the real-world application of our work, for example, in situations like the Baltimore Bridge collapse. 
This module has definitely made us think about dissertation ideas and opened up another career path too. 
Poppy Firth, second-year student in BSc (Hons) Ocean Science and Marine Conservation  

Project 3: Identifying internal waves that protect coral

Internal waves are large amplitude gravity waves caused by variations in ocean water density. They propagate at the interface between a layer of warm water and a layer of cooler water about 40m below the surface.
Internal waves in the Andaman Sea, west of Thailand, have been shown to reduce coral bleaching, especially during high Sea Surface Temperature (SST) events. Students Olivia Cox, Lucy Bryan and Anya Kirkbride were inspired to use Sentinel-1 SAR imagery to detect the presence of internal waves in the region and investigate their protective effect on corals.  
Using EO Browser to visualise 45 Sentinel-1 SAR images collected from January to December 2019, the team detected internal waves off the Similan Island chain. Optical data from Sentinel-2 were used to validate these detections.
Olivia Cox, Lucy Bryan and Anya Kirkbride
Olivia Cox, Lucy Bryan and Anya Kirkbride

You’d never think in a marine degree that you’d be looking at things from space, but it was so interesting working with satellite images.

It’s been our favourite module of uni so far, and an amazing experience. 
Olivia Cox, second-year student in BSc (Hons) Ocean Science and Marine Conservation 

School of Biological and Marine Sciences

Plymouth offers a friendly, exciting and supportive place to study biological and marine sciences. Our staff are world-leading experts who are passionate and committed to both their research and teaching.
Marine science newsletter front cover issue 10: marine science students preparing to measure surf zone currents and waves at Sunday’s River beach in South Africa.