The University of Southampton
Geography and Environment

Professor Edward Milton 

Emeritus Professor of Remote Sensing

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Professor Edward Milton is Emeritus Professor of Remote Sensing within Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton.

I retired in September 2014 after 33 years at the University of Southampton. I was initially appointed as the Science Faculty Lecturer in Remote Sensing, based in the Department of Geography. Although a geographer by training, my interests in physics and technology led me to focus on remote sensing as a means of making accurate quantitative measurements of the Earth and its atmosphere. I developed some of the earliest instruments to measure the spectral reflectance of terrestrial surfaces, and in 1988 I established the NERC Equipment Pool for Field Spectroscopy, which I led until 2003.

My teaching interests developed from my research, and for many years I taught an interdisciplinary course on the Calibration & Validation of Earth Observation data to senior undergraduates and Masters students. I supervised over 20 PhD students, several of whom now hold academic positions around the world.

As Emeritus Professor I remain active in remote sensing research and education, and have on-going collaborations with several former PhD students, as well as with colleagues at the University of Southampton and elsewhere.






Research interests

  • Field spectroscopy. The methodology and techniques of making accurate measurements of spectral reflectance under natural solar illumination;
  • Scene understanding through field spectroscopy. The use of field spectroscopy to study the bidirectional reflectance properties of natural surfaces, primarily vegetation canopies, soils and rocks;
  • Cal/Val – the Calibration and Validation of EO data. In particular, the use of airborne sensors to scale-up the knowledge and understanding achieved from field spectroscopy to larger areas of the Earth’s surface, and to provide a tool for the operational monitoring of the state of the environment.
Completed research projects

1. Hyperspectral skydome for atmospheric monitoring

This project involves the design and evaluation of a ‘proof-of-concept’ instrument designed to measure bidirectional spectral radiance, either from the sky (mounted on the roof of an aircraft), or from the ground (mounted on a tower). The research is funded by NERC through a Technology Proof-of-concept grant (ref. NE/H002235/1) which employs a Senior Research Fellow, Dr Reno Choi.

2. Hyperspectral monitoring of Mediterranean ecosystems

I am Co-investigator on an international project studying the relationship between land degradation, above-ground biomass and biodiversity in an area in southern Portugal. The role of hyperspectral remote sensing in this project is to provide data on spatial and temporal transitions at an appropriate scale for modelling and management. The hyperspectral airborne campaigns are collectively known as ‘HyMedEcos’ and form part of the preparations for a German spaceborne hyperspectral mission called EnMAP, due for launch in 2015.

HyMedEcos comprises two sub-projects, and the one I am involved with (HYMedEcos-Gradients) is led by Prof. Dr. Patrick Hostert (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin). The other collaborators on HyMedEcos-Gradients are drawn from GFZ Potsdam, the Universities of Berlin, Bonn, Lisbon, and Southampton (Dr Patrick Osborne, CEE), Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (Portugal), and Escola Superior Agrária (Portugal). The HYMedEcos team secured funding from the European Facility for Airborne Research (EUFAR) for a series of hyperspectral flights in April 2011, and further flights are planned for summer 2011, funded by the EnMAP programme.

3. Hyperspectral monitoring of lowland ombrotrophic peatland

The initial impetus for this work was a study funded by English Nature to assess the conservation status of wetlands in England and Wales (Milton et al., in Meade, 2005). This led to further work at Wedholme Flow (Cumbria) studying the relationship between spectral reflectance, surface topography and eco-hydrological patch dynamics (Anderson et al., 2009). Peatlands contain structural “microtopes” (e.g., hummocks and hollows) which are linked to hydrology, biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and information on surface structure is thus a useful proxy for peatland condition. Currently, Dr Karen Anderson and I are investigating the potential of airborne imaging spectrometry (Aisa Eagle/Hawk) and airborne full waveform LiDAR to study the interaction of water, vegetation and topography at the same site. Ombrotrophic (rain-fed) peatlands are important habitats and also store significant amounts of carbon, so understanding their sensitivity to environmental change is of national and international importance.
Anderson, K., Bennie, J.J., Milton, E.J., Hughes, P.D.M., Lindsay, R., Meade, R. (2009). Combining LiDAR and IKONOS data for eco-hydrological classification of an ombrotrophic peatland. Journal of Environmental Quality, 39, 1-14.
Meade, R. (2005). Proceedings of the Peterborough Remote Sensing Workshop, 30 September 2004. English Nature, ISBN 1-85716-873-9 (63pp).

4. Geographical understanding of vicarious calibration sites

‘Vicarious calibration (VC) sites’ are widely used to provide an independent post-launch calibration of satellite sensors operating in the optical region (400 - 2400 nm). Typical sites include high altitude salt pans (Bolivia, Turkey), dry lake beds (Nevada), sand sheets (Libya) and snowfields (Antarctica). During the period 2004-2007 I established and led a KTN on calibration and validation (cal/val) in Earth observation (EO), and that contributed to the development of QA4EO, a quality assurance framework for EO supported by the international Committee of Earth Observing Satellites (CEOS). My current research in this area focuses on evaluation of Tuz Gölü, an ephemeral lake in central Turkey proposed as a VC site for satellite sensors.

Completed Research Projects (since 2007)

1. Network for Calibration and Validation in Earth Observation (NCAVEO)
2. Lightweight spectro-goniometer
3. Automated tramway for ground spectral measurements

Research group

Global Environmental Change and Earth Observation

Past responsibilities

  • Director of the NERC Equipment Pool for Field Spectroscopy (1988-2003)
  • Chair of the NERC Airborne Remote Sensing Steering Committee (1991-94)
  • Co-ordinator of NCAVEO, the Network for Calibration & Validation in Earth Observation (2004-2007)
  • Programme Leader, Erasmus Mundus MSc Geo-information Science and Earth Observation for Environmental Modelling & Management (GEM) (2009-2014)


Book Chapter


Professor Edward Milton
University of Southampton University Road Southampton SO17 1BJ

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