Academics at the Department of Communications and Computer Engineering and the Data Science Research Platform at the University of Malta have recently been awarded two funded research projects by the Space Research Fund of the Malta Council for Science and Technology, each worth €150,000. Both projects will exploit Earth Observation data produced by the European Union’s Copernicus Programme to improve the monitoring of coastal erosion and estimation of agricultural water consumption respectively.
Coastal erosion is an unrelenting phenomenon which is of importance to the Maltese Islands as the coast is one of the most-intensely used and visited areas. Research in the downstream Earth Observation sector is key to achieving reliable and cost-effective monitoring of coastal erosion. Persistent Scatterer Interferometry (PSI) techniques utilise Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) onboard satellites to provide millimetric deformation estimates. However, SAR suffers from speckle noise, which can affect the PSI processing pipeline and the resulting deformation maps and their interpretation. The “Coastal Satellite Assisted Governance (tools, techniques, models) for Erosion” (Coastal SAGE) project will use image processing and deep learning techniques to address two key aspects of the PSI pipeline: denoising of interferometric phase and phase unwrapping. The developed denoising and unwrapping methods will be used to extract ground displacements from time series of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) acquisitions, in order to estimate deformation and displacement in study areas around Malta and Gozo. These estimates will be validated through in-situ sensors. The Coastal SAGE project is led by Dr Ing. Gianluca Valentino from the University of Malta, with the Marine and Storm Water Unit of the Public Works Department within the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects as a partner within the consortium, led by Dr George Buhagiar.
Figure 1 - Sentinel-1 SAR Ground Range Detected acquisition of the Maltese Islands on the 2nd June 2020 (VV polarization)
Figure 2 - Block sliding phenomena and boulder scree in one of the Study Areas which will be considered by the Coastal SAGE project - Selmun Promontory.
The “WAter Resource Management platform using Earth Observation” (WARM-EO) project aims to develop a Water Resource Management platform that can be used to estimate irrigation water consumption of particular crops at country level. The models adopted in other countries are not applicable to small Mediterranean countries where the parcels are too small and fragmented for the resolution of open-access services under the Copernicus Programme. This project aims to develop a deep-learning based multi-frame superresolution algorithm to improve the resolution of Sentinel-2 optical images to compute the vegetation indices at 3 m resolution. Moreover, this project will fuse in-situ data obtained from a number of weather stations scattered around the island and remote sensing data to estimate the land surface temperature at parcel level. These tools will be integrated within a Web-GIS service that will be used to estimate the irrigation water use in agricultural fields at parcel level. The WARM-EO project is led by Dr Ing. Reuben Farrugia from the University of Malta, with the Energy & Water Agency as a partner within the consortium, led by Mr Manuel Sapiano.
Figure 3 - Proposed Evapotranspiration (ET) model for the WARM-EO project.
Projects Coastal SAGE and WARM-EO financed by the Malta Council for Science and Technology, for and on behalf of the Foundation for Science and Technology, through the Space Research Fund.