PhD Studentship - The Analysis of Urban Growth and Surface Permeability informed by Earth Observation Data

University of Surrey

Approximately 90% of the UK’s population lives in urban areas. This percentage has increased steadily since the 1950’s, and the urban population is forecasted to keep growing. At the same time, floods are becoming more frequent and this trend is expected to continue under climate change. These trends combined have put the spotlight on the interaction of urbanization, climate change and flood risk.

A myriad of interconnected human activities take place in the cities and affect the urban environment. Urban planners and managers face the challenge of making those activities and associated mobility feasible, while ensuring environmental health and safety. This challenge demands effective monitoring tools to understand the functioning of spatial and temporal urban systems as well as to predict future trends.

Satellite images are widely used for monitoring of the environment in multiple disciplines. However, the applicability in urban environments is limited by the complexity of surface materials found in cities as well as the fragmented and dynamic use of urban areas. Medium resolution satellite images present complex signals, where the measured value in a single pixel represents a mix of textures and materials. High resolution images, on the other hand, often are insufficiently refined to capture the urban material complexity. As a consequence, the classification error in common methods has been found to be in the order of magnitude of the urban changes expected over a few decades, severely complicating the analysis of temporal change.

The aim of this project is to develop integrated tools for the mapping, analysis and forecasting of processes of urban growth and densification, with a focus on the increase in paved area and its effects on surface permeability.

The work is organized into three main objectives.

Objective 1: Classification of urban extent and surface permeability: The classification of earth observation data will apply a land cover typology that is simultaneously relevant to surface permeability and urban growth processes.

Objective 2: Analysis of trends in urban growth and surface permeability: Using data from the UK census as well as satellite images, the change analysis will consider both the growth of urban extent and different aspects of densification.

Objective 3: Urban growth and surface permeability forecasting: This work will apply existing frameworks for forecasting land use change through spatial simulation.

Funded under the NERC SCENARIO Doctoral Training Partnership. See the SCENARIO website for further details.

To apply, please visit

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South East England