Written Evidence Submitted by Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)






Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) is an independent company, limited by guarantee, with charitable status and a National Capability delivery partner for the UK Research & Innovation’s (UKRI) Natural Environment Research Council, as well as a designated UKRI UK research institute.  PML undertakes interdisciplinary research that brings together areas of scientific expertise to address key scientific and socially relevant questions relating to the marine environment.


PML’s unique combination of observational networks, experimental facilities, modelling capabilities and socio-economic expertise enables us to understand and forecast the changes in marine ecosystems and provide evidence-based solutions to the challenges posed.


Earth Observation and satellite observation at PML

Remote sensing obtains information about the Earth from a distance, usually from satellites aircraft, or UAVs and can be used to measure a wide variety of parameters from ocean temperature to plankton dynamics. These observations provide unique information which greatly aids understanding and management of our environment and are vitally important because they can observe vast areas of the Earth that are difficult to access and sample using traditional methods (from satellites)  or provide observations repeatedly at fine scale (from aircraft and UAVs).


PML’s activities are centred on the remote sensing of the Earth’s ocean and atmosphere, whilst not ignoring the intimate connections between the ocean, the atmosphere and terrestrial, estuarine and freshwater environments.


We have a focus on several research areas:


-       Phytoplankton dynamics and ocean colour

-       Validation of Earth observation data

-       Exploitation of Earth observation data

-       Provision of Earth observation services to the international environmental research community, European agencies and governing/regulating bodies around the globe.



PML response


On the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base:




PML’s Earth Observation group enjoys a global reputation and has a proven track record in both pure and applied Earth observation science, and comprises experts in many complementary fields including remote-sensing, physics, meteorology, engineering, data visualisation and computing. PML also develops applications to address environmental questions, provide services for others and offer commercial solutions via PML Applications Ltd.


Satellite, aircraft and unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) based sensors enable synoptic or high resolution observation of atmospheric, marine, cryospheric, Earth, freshwater and terrestrial systems and processes.


With a flexible approach to problem solving, scientific investigation and interpretation, and a willingness to share its expertise and to work co-operatively worldwide, PML’s Earth Observation group is a partner in a multitude of national and international projects, with the European Space Agency (ESA) the Copernicus Programme, EC Horizon 2020 as well as NERC and UKRI research programmes.




PML has one of the largest marine research groups in Europe and contributes to pushing the frontiers of knowledge and many aspects of the NERC Delivery Plan research priorities of NERC and UKRI:

-          Digital environment through science supported by machine learning and Earth Observation data analytics; airborne Earth Observation to validate satellite sensors; support for CDTs (SENSE, University of Leeds, Environmental  Intelligence, University of Exeter) through NEODAAS, NERC Autonomous Observing

-          Best environment for research and innovation, through support of research on the NERC research vessel fleet

-          Environmental solutions, through marine plastics detection

-          Productive environment, including research into coastal aquaculture and natural resources

-          Healthy environment: environment-cholera links (India-UK Newton,)

-          Pushing the frontiers of understanding through discovery grants and the ocean carbon budget

-          Global environment, R&I on ocean health, water quality in Africa (SOLSTICE) and inputs to IPCC.



NEODAAS (NERC Earth Observation Data Acquisition and Analysis Service) is hosted at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), overseen by the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The services offered by NEODAAS include:


-          Operational satellite data processing for the scientific community

Data from the latest satellite passes from a number of sensors such as OLCI, SLSTR, and VIIRS are downloaded each day and processed into a range of products using custom processing chains developed by NEODAAS for the scientific community.


-          Development of new products

We work with researchers from a number of institutes to ensure NEODAAS products reflect the state of the art and fulfil current and future needs of the community. NEODAAS staff are frequently involved in other research projects at Plymouth Marine Laboratory covering a range of topics. Being able to take new products, incorporate into operational processing and offer to the wider community is a key function of NEODAAS.


-          Near real-time support and rapid response using satellite data

The data ingestion and processing systems within NEODAAS allow data to be processed within hours of being made available by a data provider allowing us to support projects requiring near real-time (NRT). For example, NEODAAS regularly support research cruises by supplying daily ‘bulletins’ which make use of satellite data and our expertise to provide an overview of the area around the current cruise ship position. NEODAAS is also able to rapidly acquire and process data to support current events such as blooms, volcano eruptions, fires or oil spills.


-          Airborne data processing

Incorporating what was the NERC Airborne Research Facility Data Analysis Node, NEODAAS use software developed in-house to process airborne hyperspectral, thermal, LiDAR and digital photography data from the suite of instruments managed by the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).


-          Support and training

NEODAAS staff are able to offer advice on a wide range of topics related to Earth Observation, from choosing the best sensors and algorithms for your area of interest and assistance interpreting data to practical advice on data processing, including optimising algorithms to run on large datasets. We also provide training to users by hosting and participating in training courses. Additionally, NEODAAS staff often participate in outreach activities to help train the next generation of EO scientists.




-          Massive GPU Cluster for Earth Observation (MAGEO)

To facilitate application of Deep Learning to Earth Observation data, NEODAAS have a large Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) cluster comprising of five NVIDIA DGX-1 MaxQ nodes connected to 0.5 PB of dedicated storage. NEODAAS are able to offer compute time development assistance with applying the latest Deep Learning techniques to EO data.



PML response


What needs to be done to ensure the UK has appropriate, resilient and future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure for applications including: navigation systems; 

weather forecasting;  Earth observation including climate change; and communication (including broadband)?




Recommendation 1:




Recommendation 3:




Recommendation 3:



The pool of scientists experienced in EO and AI needs to increase. Training is needed at a number of levels for EO specialists, but also of scientists from other disciplines who need to use EO data as an input to their research. This is needed to fulfil government requirements for EO such as Scotland’s Digital Strategy[4] and Defra’s 25 year plan[5] that note need for EO across multiple public functions. EO is needed and integral to much of NERC’s research and innovation[6].






[1] Size & Health of the UK Space Industry (2018) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/774450/LE-SHUKSI_2018-SUMMARY_REPORT-FINAL-Issue4-S2C250119.pdf


[2] Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, 2021. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy


[3] UK Research and Development Roadmap, 2020, https://gov.uk/government/publications/uk-research-and- development-roadmap


[4]  Digital Scotland | A Changing Nation: How Scotland will Thrive in a Digital World, 2021: https://www.gov.scot/publications/a-changing-nation-how-scotland-will-thrive-in-a-digital-world/pages/introduction/


[5] A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, Defra, 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan.


[6] UKRI / NERC Delivery Plan 2019.



(June 2021)