A new UK Space Agency-backed online tool for learning satellite Earth Observation (EO) is now available for trial by higher education institutions.
Earth Blox aims to help inspire the UK’s next generation of climate specialists and digital pioneers by giving them instant access to over 20 petabytes of global imagery – the capacity of around 20,000 home computers – without having to write a single line of code.
The new service stems from a new collaboration, led by the University of Edinburgh, with partners including Earth Blox, the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow, The Open University, EDINA and STEM Learning Ltd, and is funded by the UK Space Agency. It builds on existing Earth Blox cloud-based software for harnessing planetary-scale satellite intelligence whilst removing the need for coding, high performance computers and extensive local storage.
Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications Strategy at the UK Space Agency, said: “Thanks to this tool it is now possible to learn technical Earth Observation data analysis skills from home – a radical step forward which should encourage many more people to develop the skills for a career in the space sector. Earth Observation is playing an increasing role in the development of our industry, and can help provide solutions to some of our most pressing challenges here on Earth.”
Since Earth Blox is backed by the vast data warehouse of Google’s Earth Engine, it is updated every day with more than five million new pixels, adding to the existing 20 Petabytes already available. Daily updates include images from the Sentinel 1 and 2 missions that are part of the Copernicus Programme.
Earth Observation teaching usually requires access to a computer laboratory to conduct practical exercises. Under Covid constraints such access was limited, but Earth Blox has allowed students to continue to conduct practical exercises from home. Earth Blox works on a web browser, so there is no need for students to install software, download large files or have a fast computer. By providing remote access to vast quantities of satellite data and analytics, Earth Blox has helped students navigate the disruption to their education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. By removing the need for laboratory-based work, Earth Blox also provides educators the option to expand learning to larger class sizes.
Professor of Applied Earth Observation from the School of GeoSciences, Iain Woodhouse, explains that: “Many of my students want to engage with EO data, but the usual tools for data analytics require coding skills, or a steep learning curve to learn a desktop application. Earth Blox addresses this need by providing an engaging, introductory tool to EO, providing analysis-ready data for entry-level students — and they don’t need to learn how to code. I am now using it in my teaching and I am excited about the new developments, such as help comments on the blocks, which helps students learn effectively at home.
“We believe that there needs to be a wider recognition of the value of applied EO data in solving planetary-scale problems whilst addressing the sustainable development goals. A tool like Earth Blox demonstrates how important the outputs of coding are to a wider audience – some students would have previously avoided coding or struggled to use EO analysis in their projects, but they can now quickly investigate the benefits of EO for a range of applications, e.g. disaster preparedness, environmental risk assessment, measuring nature-based solutions (NBS) assets.”
A webinar describing how Earth Blox for Education can be used in a learning and teaching environment is scheduled for Wednesday 26 May at 4pm (UK), and guests are invited to sign up using this link.
As we approach the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in the UK later this year the UK space sector is working to help monitor and tackle climate change and this project exemplifies the UK’s innovation in this area.
Earth Blox for Education was backed by the UK Space Agency as part of a funding call to tackle issues arising by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding also went to two other initiatives, a drones company delivering test kits in Scotland and another that used space data to support vulnerable people through a mobile application.
The projects – which received a total of £1.3m of funding – were selected as part of a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) which had already provided one round of funding of £1.1 million in July, to companies developing space-based solutions for issues created by COVID-19.
Earth Blox for Education builds on the success of the commercial Earth Blox tool that is used by their clients, such as insurance companies, to quickly monitor and report on natural assets and human impacts in remote locations worldwide.
Interested parties are encouraged to sign up for a trial at www.blox.earth.