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Season 1 Episode 1 – Transcript


The following is an attempt to transcribe the #scenefromabove podcast for those who might prefer to read instead of listen

AC = Andrew Cutts

AG = Alastair Graham



AG – Hello and welcome to season 1 episode 1 of the scenefromabove podcast. I’m Alistair

AC- And I’m Andrew

AG – And we are your hosts for a show that aims to bring you an informal discussion around the cool things happening in and around the world of earth observation at the moment. You can reach us on twitter using the hastags #scenefromabove. The scenefromabove podcast is planning to have a season comprising of 6 episodes and these will be spaced roughly about 3 weeks apart. Once we get to the end of season 1 then we will review where we are and look for some feedback from some people who are listening to this to see whether or not we carry on to do a season 2.

AC – We’ll try and cover the broadest spectrum of topics. I would be delighted to take  input from anybody about what would be interesting to discuss whether it would be specific satellite mission or maybe time series of data or maybe thoughts and contributions about where we are heading there’s so many  exciting things happening … we really want to be part of the wider community.

—- Music—-

NEWS Item 1 – Wildfires in California

AC – So I want to talk a little bit about fires in California.


AG – Yes very topical.

AC – It seems to me that  2017 as we reflect here. I like to say the date 15th December. We reflect here on the wildfires in California which have been burning now for I think over a week now. I really feel now that the data from these different sensors is really helping aid and communicate the full extent of these fires. It really brings it home when you see these images. So theres the have great images on there page. They have one that I am looking at now of the carbon monoxide, the total carbon monoxide emitted and its huge, it’s a huge amount and its with this sort of visualisation of the data that I found really striking.

AG – Yeah. So did you also see the earlier in the year there where some wildfires up in Greenland there were being reported on twitter aswell.

AC – Yeah

AG – It seemed to me as if the sort of wildfire monitoring community has got everything in place at the moment. Whatever there workflow is and there method of communication and getting the data out to the people who need it seems to be really really absolutely on the ball and they are getting quick turnaround of information, getting it well communicated out there across social media. For all sorts of different fire events some that effect large populations of people such as those in California and others that people would probably not hear about such as those up in Greenland. So yeah I think they are doing a great job and satellite imagery is really coming to the front in how it can help people on the ground understand what is happening and help the wider audience as it were.

AC- Yeah the Greenland thing is interesting isn’t it. This is the peatland I think and this stuff just burns just really continually just burns and I think the timeframe of this burn has been many many days if not stretching into months.

AG- Exactly, its promoting the thing is actually happening and educating more and more people about the impacts there are on the environment from all of these natural disasters and semi natural disasters. In some respects, you could say the same about the earthquake monitoring community as well. They also have the very rapid turnaround use of satellite data linked into almost every aspect of what they are doing in terms of monitoring the size and extent of change of where the earthquake has happened and then getting that out to the people who need it on the ground. All of these disasters are terrible for the people caught up in them. I think we are really beginning to see operational remote sensing come to the fore.

AC – Yeah I think so.

NEW ITEM 2 – Satellites taking pictures of other space things

AC – Another thing that really sort of grabbed me this week was the international space station. Its been on an orbit which has made it very clear across the skies in the UK and we’ve stood outside in our back garden a couple of nights to see this very bright dot in the sky.

AG – Its amazing isn’t it?

AC – Its just stunning. This year I have seen Digital Globe take a picture of Worldview-4 taking off and Planet recording an amazing series of stills pushed into a video of the launch of one of their doves and it made me wonder if there has ever been a satellite image taken of the souyez returning to Earth? As we had this week with 3 of the guys coming back from the ISS.

AG – That’s a good point I’ve never come across one

AC – No, I thought that that would be quite a telling image. Cause now you can have, well I assume its live footage from the cockpit of the souyez as it takes off and you get cameras returning recording there journey back to Earth, so a satellite image would be pretty spectacular I would think and it just aids to the education of the community. I have seen images from one of the Landsat sensors probably Landsat 8 has taken of the ISS and while its very small and blurry its still pretty impressive stuff I think.


AG –  I came across something called which I think knowing the types of things you blog about I think you are going to be super interested in this

AC – Yeah, I’ve seen it, it looks good does it

AG – So it basically as far as I can tell a new project, H2020 funding out of Europe. Not only that it also has google earth engine as a partner – just to get that in there – as we are trying to do! Its basically excepting that all of the modern earth observation and remote sensing types of data portals and platforms are going to be online and its trying to derive standardised API’s. Looks like for R, Python and Javascript. Its just getting going, its got a few years of funding, be really interesting to keep on top of this one and see where we go.

NEWS ITEM 4 – Realtime satellites!topic/Conservation_RS/Eb_uHe2ymy0

AG – So the other thing I have seen was a discussion on the conservation remote sensing network google group that I am signed up to. This is really interesting, this is someone who had a problem where they wanted to try and detect more or less real-time a poacher’s campfire using satellite data.


AG – So we are talking down to sort of 1m maybe a metre and a half maximum in terms of size of object that you are trying to see. And they have been talking about all sorts of different methods they could use and how they could do that. They are talking about using Digital Globe data and Planet data, but it all going to be around how quickly you can get access to information as its captured, because the whole point of capturing these poachers is to try and send a task force out there to try and find them. So, having a week’s turnaround of the imagery is not going to be good enough. So, there’s loads of really complex issues in here which are great which because its driven by the conservation side of things they are just asking the question. I want super high resolution, I want it at night, I want it in almost real-time how do we go about doing that? And loads of people have chucked their thoughts in.

NEWS ITEM 5 – Sentinel 3 viewer

AC – And finally for things I have seen this week – Sentinel 3. Which is a very heavily loaded sensor with various ocean monitoring and land monitoring sensors on. There has been a web portal or a web viewer released  – I don’t know if it has come out recently but I have only just became aware of it. I went looking the other night to see the snowy images that had in the UK this week. These portals are ten a penny now for viewing satellite data and this is another one on the market. Its quite and nice slick and quick interface and what I really like about it is that you can share links with people via social media or whatever the actual images that you are looking at and you can train it to the area you are most interested in and it is pretty fast.

AG – It is pretty fast yeah. And like you say some very nice imagery on there. Just moving around it at the moment I quite like the fact that the google satellite layer in the backend looks … moves around just slightly fractionally slower than the sentinel 3 image so it makes it look like the sentinel 3 images are a layer draped over – it has a slight 3D effect.

AC – That’s right yeah.

AG – I don’t know whether that is on purpose or not but it looks super cool.

AC – Well that’s the main thing isn’t it.

AG – Exactly

AC – The thing that I wish was a bit clearer was on the left-hand side you see this products tab/button

AG – oh yeah

AC – It’s a little bit hidden I think and this is really where the power is. You can turn on and off all these layers if you are familiar with a web GIS it quite a common look. You can see based on the different dates where the different images have been taken. I’m looking at the image from the 11th December over the UK and you can see / compare different sensors have viewed different parts on each pass. And that is pretty interesting as well.

AG – There is some nice functionality in there. I am going to spend some time looking around that.

AC – There is a tendency for a race to deliver these web front ends and really that leads us nicely to our general topic for discussion. Which is “is there a killer Earth Observation app?”


Is Google Earth still the killer app?

AC – Google Earth is the killer app its easy to use, huge number of downloads, its on everybody’s computer it seems. Fly around the world, view your holiday destination, sites of interest and even though these are nice pictures there is more to be seen. So can we foresee a time when a company or someone will come along and produce another version of Google Earth or a better version, or is Google Earth the killer app?

AG – Well that’s an interesting concept and idea to discuss. With Google Earth being around since 2001 this is still the sort of thing people identify most closely with remote sensing/satellite data/Earth Observation. Now I don’t know how much it gets used day to day by people who are just looking for places to go and what have you, there are so many online mapping apps that are as good and have a form of ‘3Dness’ as well. But Google Earth certainly was the sort of thing that transformed the industry, almost overnight, I remember my boss at a previous job emailing me and going ‘this is what you do’ “yes this is sort of what I do” and I’m glad that you understand now a bit more about what I do. He was so excited about being able to just have something on his desktop where he could zoom in and out and round the world and see imagery. I think it will be very difficult for any app to be able to have that same level of game changingness (if that’s a word?).

AC – Yeah

AG – I think there are probably things that will start to erode into how much Google Earth is used as the go to descriptor of what remote sensing is. So it might not be that there is another killer app, it might not be that there is another thing that lots and lots non remote sensing people will use. There might be an app that is used as a way of understanding what it is that satellite data can provide.

AC – Google Earth is really set the foundation or reset the foundation when it came out. I think I first really became aware of it 2004/2005 time. There still seems to be a race to deliver web based mapping or web based image front ends. We talked about the Sentinel 3 application earlier. I sometimes wonder that while these things are nice how much are people actually interacting with it. I am sure all the owners of these pages are recording very detailed analytics and metrics but as humans we tend to just like to look at data and that realy where the visualisation of it comes in. I think with Google Earth is you don’t need a guide on how to use it, you don’t need to flick the mouse around, you, it just feels natural. I think for me even a decade on its still the leading platform.

AG – For anyone who doesn’t use GIS or need to really understand format types, being able to just send them as a kml or kmz and say yeah look at this as it zooms into what you have sent them. That can’t be understated just how useful that is for them.

AC – I was going to chip in and say I saw a video on YouTube this week called the 2020 [ed. 2030] vision for a world empowered by satellites and its (I have just gone looking for it) and its 3 years old. It’s a discussion between 2 people and they are talking to their computer and effectively their listening device and its reporting status of the weather for example or what’s going on. And its kind of, is it minority report all these screens are appearing you know these holographics

AG – yeah

AC – Its that. I’ll stick it in the show notes of the podcast. Its quite an interesting video about 5 minutes long


AC – But its 3 years old, but feels increasingly relevant.

AG – Yeah. But I also think that having lots of individual applications out there on the web or even software that you download that are just looking at one specific topic isn’t going to work whatever happens there is going to have to be some sort of interaction between artificial intelligence and machine learning and everything else, bringing in other data sources automatically as web services at the backend so that you have a system whereby if you want to find out something almost like a spatial Wikipedia or something if that makes sense.

AC – yeah , yeah. Are you envisaging a future where its not sustainable to have 50 different websites showing 50 different pieces of information? Where you have one website showing the 50 different pieces of information.

AG – Well I think there will be 50 websites because that’s just the way human nature is, everyone wants there own thing and I think there will be a demand irrespective of whether there is one killer app there will always be demand for competition and having something very specific. I think if we are talking specifically as we are now, then what could potentially be the next killer app the next Google Earth type of thing to completely revolutionise the way that people think about satellite data and everything else. It would be a single place where you could go in and ask questions about what has happened in that area. And it wouldn’t just be ‘oh well this area has deforested’ it would be well ‘ this area has deforested and it started deforesting at this point in time and increased in its rate at this point in time and that coincided with that change of population, which coincided with a change in governance’ all these different things you would almost have you research site there for whatever it was you were doing. It would be driven spatially by satellite data.

AC – that would be a connection exercise wouldn’t it? You’d have to connect up a huge variety of different information sources. I see what you mean by the geospatial Wikipedia, that sounds to me to be the ideal governmental type tool. That would help you communicate project based or local or regional type information to a wider community almost to say caned in questions like ‘how long is this road engineering going to happen’ or show me what’s happened in the last 5 months.

AG – I’ve just gone on line and done a search for a spatial Wikipedia. I have come up with something called wikimapia! So they are already on it

AC – There you go!

AG – This looks really cool actually, as far as I can tell its not something where you  can go In and ask a question about an area and it tells you all sorts of information about that. But it has a whole series of polygons. You can click on the polygons and each polygon then has a link through to a Wikipedia article by the looks of things. This is very cool.

AC – There you go , this what we plan the podcast for isn’t it? Realtime internet searching! “your internet running slow? Then let you search for you!” The danger is that there is a rush to the killer app and we may already be at a killer app. Or we may not need a killer app. So its maybe, we need to reframe the question?

AG – So we need to wrap up there then

AC- OK Happy Christmas

AG – Thankyou very much. And we will definitely be back in the new year ready to record a new podcast so we will see you then!

AC – Goodbye

AG – Cheers!


AG – That bit in bold where it says ‘and I’m Andrew’ that’s you coming in and saying ‘and I’m Andrew’

AC – Yep got it! yeah.