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Massive Open Online Courses on Earth Observation 2017

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In Q4 2017 there have been at least four Earth Observation related MOOCs that I have been aware of. I have keenly followed these three:

  1. Future Learn Earth Observation
  2. EO College “Echoes in space”
  3. IEA’s Big Data (not solely focused on EO, but there is a decent part devoted to it).

All this information was/is available freely (sometimes you need to pay for an accredited certificate). This is brilliant; no expensive cost to your organisation, just get on with it when you have the spare time. There is always something new to learn, or an idea to revisit.

What did I learn? Three things.

First thing:

I was really interested in the comments posted in the Future Learn Course on EO.

The free tier for this course has now ended, but I remember one of the comments being along the lines of “Can you order [future] satellite data?” The answer to that question is yes – with a but. You can task a satellite to acquire data but this is the most expensive way to get your image. Some suppliers will speculatively collect the data for you if they have the spare capacity. Certainly in the first case you would have to agree to certain acquisition parameters (cloud cover, time frame and angle off nadir being the three that spring to mind). This is a case of risk vs need. With the increasing fleets of cubesats now orbiting the Earth giving you an image every day this presents another viable option, albeit at a lower spatial resolution.

With Satellites such as Sentinel 2 (a and b) and Landsat 8 you can get a planned acquisition list – for example here are the latest kml files for Sentinel 2. Knowing this, you could look at weather data for your area (if available) and have an idea of whether the data will be useful.

Second thing:

The course from EO College on radar “Echoes in space” was of extremely high quality. Sadly, this has now closed though hopefully they will re-run it.

Split into five parts on History, Geometry, Land, Water and Hazard, this was a quick but comprehensive guide to SAR data. The big take away for me… SNAP toolbox.

Even though I’d used SNAP before, I hadn’t (and still haven’t) got close to utilising the wide range of tools it supplies. This was a course that gave the theory then the history and science behind SAR, through to detailed case-studies. Flood mapping, measures of forest change and urban footprint mapping, all done in … yes that’s right, SNAP.

Third thing:

Big Data.

Another great course spread over three weeks, this course is great for short bursts of high quality content. In the final week there is a really interesting video/discussion on spotting palm trees from space.

“It’s very interesting that we’ve learned through this project that it’s not viable anymore to do computation locally. What we have to do is work in the cloud. So the images are not anymore downloaded to your computer to do the analysis.”

This project was working with Satellite data which was probably bigger than my hard-disk only a few years ago. The lesson is that you build small, test viability and scale up fast using cloud infrastructure. The course covered much more than this though; there was a great discussion I enjoyed reading on what makes a good visualisation.

A good summary of data viz in 2017 is given here

So many interesting ideas and discussions. Q4 has provided a great selection of courses that are self-paced. It is worth keeping an eye out for future MOOCs as Earth Observation grows. I certainly will be.


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