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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Existing Content - 5 JULY 2016 15:18  /  Admissions  /  Masters  /  MSc Remote Sensing

MSc Remote Sensing


rainforest on Fraser Island, QLD, Australia

Remote sensing is the science of deriving information about the Earth’s (or even non-terrestrial planetary) surface without being in contact with it, through the capture, processing and analysis of electromagnetic radiation of different wavelengths. Remote sensing is integral to a wide range of applications including: global climate change, deforestation, fire mapping, oil exploration, ice sheet dynamics, earthquakes, pollution, oceanography, ecology and conservation, resource management, food security and humanitarian applications.

The MSc in Remote Sensing is the leading Master's level programme in remote sensing in the UK. The programme is run by UCL Geography, one of the UK’s leading Geography Departments, but draws on expertise and teaching from across UCL, particularly Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering. The course also has direct involvement from King’s and Imperial Colleges elsewhere in London, and institutions beyond, providing a unique perspective. The programme is integrated into the Department’s modular MSc structure so that students benefit from interaction with students in Conservation, Climate Change, Environmental Mapping, Modelling and Spatial Analysis, as well as a wide choice of modules. The course draws on world-leading researchers in, amongst other things, climate change, polar observation, vegetation modelling and monitoring, lidar mapping and fire modelling.

Who will benefit from the programme?

The MSc in Remote Sensing is designed to appeal to students from a range of disciplines looking to understand the role that remote sensing can play in understanding the environment. It will appeal not only to those with backgrounds in environmental sciences (such as geography and geology) but also to those with a background in more quantitative sciences (physics, engineering, computing etc.) who wish to exploit their skills in an environmental science context. The programme also caters for those who have been in employment and wish to change career. Each year the programme takes approximately 10-20 students from different national and disciplinary backgrounds, making this a vibrant international and interdisciplinary programme. The MSc will appeal to individuals interested in developing research training while acquiring vocational skills for work in remote sensing related positions in public and private sector institutions. The MSc is also suitable training for those wishing to undertake a PhD. Many of the programme alumni now occupy academic positions throughout the remote sensing community.


Plankton blooms off the UK (image from NASA Visible Earth)The MSc in Remote Sensing runs over a full year. The Core Programme takes place in term 1 (autumn) and consists of four core courses which establish the fundamentals of remote sensing, and teach students the requisite technical skills necessary for the remainder of the programme. In Term 2 (spring) students take optional courses on specialist subjects. These courses make use of the wide range of academic expertise and research interests among the staff, and take place at UCL, King’s College or Imperial College. Computing and training in technical and mathematical methods runs throughout the first term and is compulsory for all students. Student learning is supported by tutorials, transferable skills training and research supervision throughout the year. The final element of the degree, the individual research project, is completed over the summer term and vacation.There may be small changes in the option courses offered from one year to the next. Most of the core programme courses are common to other programmes.

The following core modules will be available in 2016-17.  Optional modules are subject to change.


Module code

Module title

UCL Credit value

GEOGG121 Analytical and Numerical Methods
15 credits
GEOGG122 Scientific Computing
15 credits

Mapping Science

15 credits
GEOGG141 Principles and Practice of Remote Sensing
15 credits


Module code

Module title

UCL Credit value

Terrestrial Carbon: Modelling and Monitoring
15 credits
GEOGG134 Climate Modelling
15 credits
Global Monitoring of Environment & Society
15 credits
Airborne Data Acquisition
15 credits
CEGEG075 Image Understanding 15 credits
CEGEG083 Ocean and Coastal Zone Management 15 credits
CEGEG084 Terrestrial Data Acquisition 15 credits


Students on the MSc programme embark on a dissertation (60 credits) after the examinations in May, which lasts until the end of the programme in September. The department enjoys strong links with industry, and projects are often carried out in collaboration with organisations outside the college. With the range of expertise available in the department, this leads to a very wide variety of possible topics for investigation.

Industrial Visits

Students are encouraged to visit and liase with industry throughout the programme, but most particularly when working on their project in the second half of the year.


  • Exposure to cutting edge research via involvement of UCL researchers in the National Environment Research Council Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), and international space agencies such as ESA and NASA
  • Students consistently go on to successful careers in a range of commercial, government and academic areas
  • High success rate for graduates wishing to obtain funding for postgraduate studies, particularly through NERC
  • Opportunities to carry out cutting-edge research as part of the dissertation process – including fieldwork, and publication in academic journals

Fees and Applications

Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar (image from ESA)Fees information is at


For information on UCL scholarships, please visit:

The minimum entry requirements are a good second class honours degree in a cognate subject or related discipline, from a UK university or the equivalent from an overseas institution. Acceptable degrees include oceanography, marine studies, geography, civil engineering, geology, mathematics, and physics. Extensive work experience covering related areas will be considered. Formal qualifications in mathematics are not a prerequisite for entry to the programme but students are expected to have an aptitude for mathematical studies and if necessary to undertake revision prior to the start of the programme. Advice is available from the programme tutor (Prof. Philip Lewis).

Overseas applicants will need a recognised English language qualification. Some information relating to your country and UCL can be found here. To find out if your degree is recognised by UCL please contact the Admissions Office.

Please visit the Application & Entry website for downloadable and online application forms and details of application procedure as well as information on fees, living expenses and scholarships.

If you have any queries you can contact us on (+44) (0)20 7679 0518 or email The course convenor is Prof. Philip Lewis ( )

Further Information

Smog plumes over NY, USA (image from NASA Visible Earth)Locations

The programme is based at University College London (UCL). Lectures are held in the Department of Geography and Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering at UCL. Teaching is also carried out in the Department of Earth Science Engineering, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (IC) and in the Department of Geography, King’s College London. Computing facilities are available across all sites and library facilities at UCL and IC.

UCL Department of Geography

The Geography Department has a network of about 50 multi-user unix (Red Hat Enterprise and Scientific Linux) workstations, on a 1Gbit network with a total data storage capacity of > 100Tb. MSc classes benefit from new quad-core workstations, which are also available for individual project work. The Department has the usual peripherals including A4 and A3 colour PostScript laser printers, A3 colour scanners and a large format A0 map scanner. We also run Windows-based applications via Oracle VirtualBox and it is possible to access the UCL's Windows Terminal Server (WTS) system via all our workstations. Selected Geography workstations are available via secure shell networkingso many applications can be run remotely from outside UCL. Students can also connect their personal laptop computers to the internet via our wireless Eduroam service and hotdesk space is available in a newly refurbished common room. The Geography Department also shares the co-located Chorley Institute's 100 cpu Linux cluster for large processing and modelling tasks.

Antarctic ice sheet fracture (image from NASA Visible Earth)

Software for the unix workstations includes ENVI/IDL (image processing), Matlab (including comlete set of toolboxes; programming and visualisation), QGIS and GRASS (GIS), and UNIMAP (digital mapping/GIS); ORACLE (relational database); Ramtek TERRAIN SPIDER, HIPS and ER Mapper. We also support programming in Fortran, C/C++, prolog and python, and Matlab. In addition we have site licenses for ERDAS Imagine and ArcGIS. The Department has its own computer support team who coverhardware and software support for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows-based workstations and PCs.

Textbooks & Journals

Recommendations on references will be given during the programme by individual lecturers.


Main libraries are located at UCL (Science Library) and at IC (Central). Departmental collections of books and journals are also available at:

  • Earth Science (IC)
  • Space and Atmospheric & Physics (IC)
  • Geography (UCL)
  • Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (UCL)
MSc Remote Sensing FlyerMSc Remote Sensing Handbook
A short brochure can be downloaded here. A more detailed course handbook can be downloaded here.

Potential applicants often ask about the maths requirements for these courses. We do expect a basic level of mathematical skill, but we accept students from a wide range of backgrounds and have long experience on getting everyone up to speed during the course, so don't let this put you off. The link below gives a broader indication of the requirements, plus some background reading:

Alumni Profiles

1.jpg“The Remote Sensing MSc at UCL is considered to be the best in the country for this subject. It gives the opportunity to learn from some of the very best researchers in a range of different remote sensing topics. Whilst providing you with all the skills needed to follow a career in this area. I know without a doubt that my MSc Remote Sensing from UCL Geography Department was invaluable for directing and enabling my future work.”
Sam Fleming (2011/12), Head of Client Services, Carbomap







IMG_1587.jpg“I gained a vital introduction to remote sensing and Earth Observation (EO) at UCL Geography; through stimulating lectures and rigorous practical classes I have developed a unique theoretical and practical skillset. MSc Remote Sensing at UCL was not only taught by internationally renowned experts in their field but also provided supplementary talks and lectures from key figures in industry and other academic institutions, providing a well-rounded educational experience. MSc Remote Sensing gave me the ideal spring-board into the EO job market.”
Niall Origo (2011/12), Earth Observation Research Scientist, National Physical Laboratory