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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Postgraduate Courses (School of GeoSciences)

Postgraduate Course: Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Goals (PGGE08001)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryThis course is an introduction to Earth observation for beginners and non-technical people (contains no mathematics or substantive quantitative analysis). The primary aim is to provide students with a well-grounded understanding of the important insights provided by satellite observations with an emphasis on how this data can be used to monitor or evaluate progress on sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Course description This course examines how satellite data of the Earth can be used in the context of Sustainable Development Goals, and the easy-to-access tools than can be used to apply such data to practical SDG issues (such as monitoring and reporting). It starts with an introductory overview of the principles of remote sensing from space, and the narratives, and origin, of SDGs. It considers the operational elements of monitoring, such as completeness of data, uncertainties and costs, as well as introducing students to the practical use of satellite data, using data analytics tools that have a shallow learning curve but allow students quick access to EO data. Such platforms include EO Browser, Google Earth and Earth Blox, all of which are web-based, requiring no local installation or specialised computing hardware. The bulk of the course looks at 4 SDGs in particular (2, 11, 13, 15), as the easiest examples of how EO data can be used to inform decision makers, or contribute to the broader SDG narrative.

The course concludes by looking at some specific examples of recent application of EO data in a SDG context.


1. Introduction to satellite remote sensing and SDGs. Firstly, covering: the fundamentals of electromagnetic waves, electromagnetic spectrum, active vs passive remote sensing systems, how to represent multi-band images on a screen, defining different kinds of resolution, the limitation of low Earth orbit. And secondly: the history of SDGs, the policy context of the SDG narrative, critical perspectives and wider development context.

2. The ethics of Satellite Data. Examining some of the legal, moral and ethical issues around satellite data. Explores the topics of ownership of data, access rights to data, permission (or lack of) for acquiring imagery, and the asymmetries of users ability to extract useful information from such data.

3. Monitoring SDG 13 Climate Action. Considers the Earth Radiation Budget and planetary albedo. Consider RGB colour composites of different wavelengths. Compare the results from different spectral bands. Introduces pros and cons of using satellites and different orbit types. Uses examples of extreme weather events. Practical element: visual assessment of different spatial resolutions; looking at recent extreme weather events.

4. Monitoring SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Look at patterns of population density and how they compare to night lights. Learn how to map flooding events using Sentinel-1 radar data and estimate the area. Practical Element: Do an area comparison. Compare these to air pollution observations. Overlay flood map with population maps. View shipping routes using SAR.

5. Monitoring SDG 2: Zero Hunger. Understanding NDVI using Sentinel-2. Learning how to visualise and output a time series of NDVI. Practical Element: Conduct some land classification for agricultural monitoring. Look at drought metrics and desertification in the Sahel. Consideration of environmental stress indicators.

6. Monitoring SDG 15 Life on Land. Use NDVI again to look at forest cover. Use Hansen forest loss/gain and PALSAR radar to see changes in forest cover over time. Determine area metrics. Explore the visualisation of radar data from Sentinel 1, using different polarisations and time series. Practical Element: Calculate forest biomass parameters from PALSAR. Look at trends in forest fires and make an estimate of forest biomass lost.

7. Real World Case Studies. STRATA: UNEP environmental climate stress indicator. Examples from the UKSA IPP programme. Practical Element:
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Block 5 (Sem 2) and beyond
Course Start Date 29/04/2024
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Online Activities 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 78 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

Practical assessments (5 assessments on Earth Blox, each 6%)
One page Policy Brief (30%)
1,200 word essay (40%)
Feedback There will be three types of formative feedback:
(A) half-way through the course, each student will be invited to a meeting with the CO to discuss their comprehension of the course materials and concepts.
(B) Online quizzes with achievement stages, and practical self-assessments will be available for each week of the course.
(C) Formative feedback will be provided on outlines of the final Essay in time for the feedback to be useful in preparing the final document.

Summative feedback will be provided on both the Policy Brief and the Essay. The in-class practical exercises using Earth Blox (or equivalent) will provide students (and the CO) with immediate feedback on performance and understanding each week.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the main methods by which satellite data is, or can be, collected, stored, analysed and applied in an SDG context.
  2. Distinguish between and critically evaluate the main arguments and policy drivers relevant to sustainable development goals (specifically, SDGs 2,11,13,15).
  3. Understand and critically debate the choice of particular satellite data and methodological approaches to informing assessments of SDGs 2, 11, 13 and 15.
  4. Evaluate the pros and cons (in an SDG context) of different satellite instruments and their data, at various time and space scales, including specifics such as spatial resolution, mapping capacity and practical implementation in monitoring systems.
  5. For their own areas of interest, find, visualise and interpret new and archived Earth observation data from satellites, using tools such as Google Earth, EO Browser, or Earth Blox.
Reading List
Woodhouse, I.H., (2021, forthcoming), Observing Earth (eBook).

The Group on Earth Observations, (2017), Earth Observations in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Published by JAXA for GEO ( )
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Skills: Understanding of satellite data fundamentals (theory), and basic analytics (practical). Ability to communicate effectively through short written media.
KeywordsRemote sensing,satellites,Earth observation,sustainable development goals,SDG
Course organiserProf Iain Woodhouse
Tel: (0131 6)50 2527
Course secretaryMrs Katherine Ingram
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