Heather Selley

Turing Enrichment student Heather Selley is applying machine learning to satellite imagery to detect Antarctic ice shelf changes

What are you working on at the moment?Heather Selley

I am currently part of The Alan Turing Institute’s Enrichment scheme, where I am working on applying machine learning techniques to satellite imagery to detect structural changes in ice shelves in Antarctica. Mapping these structures and how they change will help illuminate the response of ice shelves to climate forcings (any factors that affect the Earth’s climate, such as warming air and ocean temperatures). I am working with Alison Heppenstall and Nicolas Malleson, both based at the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA), for six months.

What first got you interested in your field of research?

I went to Iceland on a school trip during my A-Levels and saw a glacier for the first time; I have been fascinated ever since. I was then introduced to the world of satellite imagery and Earth observation during my undergraduate degree – it’s unbelievable how much information it can provide us with. For example, it allows us to view these beautiful areas and to look at how Antarctica is changing from over 16,000 km away.

What do you hope is the impact of your research?

I hope my research will help improve our understanding and projections of Antarctica’s contribution to global sea level rise and response to changing climate forcings. I also hope it highlights the importance of continued coverage of high-resolution imagery over the polar regions, and that it helps to raise  awareness of the climate crisis.

Career highlight so far?

I recently had my proposal accepted to name nine glaciers in Antarctica.  It feels fantastic to have a permanent legacy of my work studying Antarctica. I hope naming the glaciers raises even more awareness of the climate crisis and the need for action now. In particular, I believe naming a glacier after Glasgow, the location of COP26, highlights that now is the time to decide what we want the legacy of our generations to be. 

What do you hope COP26 achieves?

COP26 marks an important moment in time. Scientifically, it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C. However, it requires strong, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now. The disruptions to our climate system increase in direct relation to our greenhouse gas emissions. My hope is that ambitious concrete actions, timeframes and commitments will be made.

And finally, when not working, what can you be found doing?

I can be found baking and dancing or fighting to improve mental health and diversity in academia.


Find out more about the Glacier naming and view Heather’s session in the Blue Zone at COP26.