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Earth Observation Tool Providing 20 Petabytes of Orbital Images to Students

A trial version of an Earth observation tool is now available for institutions to allow students to work with satellite data from their homes.

Earth Blox for Education is led by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Earth Blox, and give students around the UK instant access to more than 20 petabytes of detailed global imagery.

It will help them develop their skills in observing changes to the Earth and better understand the global impact of deforestation and large-scale disasters, such as the volcanic explosion from La Soufrière in St Vincent, organisers said.

Earth Observation (EO) teaching usually requires access to a computer laboratory to conduct practical exercises. However, constraints caused by Covid-19 means access to the right tech has been severely limited.

The Earth observation tool runs through a web browser, removing the need for students to have a powerful computer, install important software or download large files. Additionally, by removing the need for laboratory-based work, the tech also provides educators the option to expand learning to larger class sizes.

Iain Woodhouse, Professor of Applied Earth Observation, School of GeoSciences, said: “Many of my students want to engage with Earth Observation 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 helpful comments on the blocks, which helps students learn effectively at home.”

Earth Blox is updated every day with more than five million new pixels and is backed by the vast data warehouse of Google’s Earth Engine. Daily updates include images from the European Space Agency’s satellites – Sentinel 1 and 2 missions.

The initiative, funded by the UK Space Agency, is led by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the start-up Earth Blox, the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow, The Open University, EDINA and STEM Learning Ltd.

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.”

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