Looking back on a successful MariSAR 2015 conference

26 Jan 2015 - 11:45

The MariSAR 2015 conference on methods and applications of satellite-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR), specifically focusing on the maritime domain took place from 14 to 16 January 2015. The conference was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global and co-hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Augustus Vogel of ONR Global delivers the Opening Address

Opening Address at MariSAR 2015

The organising committee, consisting of Augustus Vogel (ONR Global), Pieter de Villiers (CSIR) and Mike Inggs and Daniel O’Hagan (UCT) expressed their satisfaction with the smooth running of the conference.

They had been ably assisted by Judy Mackintosh and Juliane O’Hagan, who were responsible for all the administrative matters, and for sorting out registrations and public relations.

Friendly e-techie Gabriel Lellouch had the unenviable task of linking together speakers and attendees – both those who were present in person and those from near and far, who were logging in via Adobe Connect. He had to ensure that all the sessions started and ended on time, that both audio and video were fully operational throughout, and that online attendees could ask and respond to questions. Any technical issues were promptly sorted out. With the threat of Eskom load-shedding, we had put in place a back-up plan, but thankfully, we were spared a blackout!

Our friendly catering team

A word of praise must go to the wonderful team of Jessica’s Catering, who looked after us exceedingly well. Freshly sliced fruit always accompanied a selection of scones, muffins or croissants at tea-time, and lunch each day was superlative. The conference dinner in the historic Great Hall at the Smuts Hall residence on Upper Campus was excellent.

The MariSAR 2015 conference brought together experts from a range of fields from across the globe, and the presentations were all of a very high standard.

The titles and abstracts of all the presentations, as well as links to the video recordings that were made, can be found here: Programme of MariSAR 2015.

And the galleries of the photographs that were taken during the conference can be found here: Photographs.


Before the opening session of the MariSAR 2015 conference, the delegates register and get to know each other

The delegates register and get to know each other


We had four Keynote Speakers: Johnny Johannessen had come all the way from the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre, Bergen in Norway, to talk about the use of imaging radar satellites for coastal and ocean application, focusing particularly on the seas around South Africa. The other three Keynote Speakers addressed participants remotely, via Adobe Connect: Clayton Stewart from University College London (UCL) discussed the use of space-based SAR for maritime domain awareness. Marco Martorella from the University of Pisa in Italy, looked at the role of spaceborne inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) imaging for maritime surveillance. And Mehrdad Soumekh from the Department of Electrical Engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Amherst, New York, considered the use and efficacy of SAR for detecting, geolocating and tracking moving targets.

Three of our online speakers were based at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in the United States: Bryan Bagnall introduced the problem of automated oil slick detection using SAR imagery; Sparta Cheung discussed the results of using space-based SAR imagery with corner reflectors to detect small wooden vessels on the Ghanaian coast; and John Stastny spoke about a highly adaptive and automated SAR ship detection system capable of processing a wide range of commercial and air-borne sensors, imaging modes and resolutions.

In addition to the live speakers and audience, there are also many online participants from right across the globe

In addition to the live speakers and audience, there are also many online participants from right across the globe

Another three online speakers came from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission: Virginia Fernandez Arguedas and Mattia Stolla looked at building up a maritime situational picture by detecting, representing and classifying ships from satellite imagery for maritime surveillance support. Fabio Mazzarella used historical positioning data to build a geographical maritime transport network and to model maritime activity. Conor Delaney and Alfredo Alessandrini showed the value of message brokering and data mediation to leverage oceanography data to help generate information for maritime security off the coast of Africa.

From Europe, we also had Eric Jürgen Haase from Denmark’s Technical University, who spoke eloquently about his efforts to locate historic oil dumping off the shore of Lüderitz in Namibia, by using oiled-penguin data in conjunction with satellite radar imagery. Giuliana Pallotta from the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) in Italy discussed the challenges and state of the art solutions for integrating space-based information in order to enhance maritime surveillance capabilities. Present in person were Jose da Silva and Jorge Magalhaes, from the Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental (CIIMAR) at the University of Porto in Portugal, whose presentations focused on the use of SAR to detect internal solitary waves, on the Amazon river shelf and in the Red Sea respectively.


Conference dinner in the historic Great Hall of Smuts Hall residence

From the United States, we had several online speakers: Oscar Garcia-Pineda from Florida State University, who addressed the detection and fingerprinting of features associated with emulsions in oil spills by means of SAR and optical-infrared sensors. Also based in Florida, Roland Romeiser from the Department of Ocean Sciences at the Rosenstiehl School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) in Miami, gave us an overview of the use of an experimental mode of Terra SAR-X to conduct SAR along-track interferometry to measure surface currents. William Pichel, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Centre for Satellite Applications and Research (NOAA-STAR), considered the use of imagery from the recently-launched Sentinel-1a satellite in deriving high-resolution wind products. Ralph Foster, of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, summarized methods for retrieving sea-level pressure from high-resolution surface wind vectors, derived from SAR images of the sea surface underneath tropical cyclones.

And finally, the South African contingent consisted of a several speakers from the CSIRMarjolaine Krug introduced her findings on ocean wind, waves and currents by using SAR in South African waters; Lizwe Mdakane who used local binary patterns in SAR imagery to detect bilge dumps; Willie Nel discussed ISAR imaging of maritime targets, from a security perspective; Colin Schwegmann presented the latest advances in ship detection methods by using image processing and pattern recognition to locate and identify ships in South African waters from SAR imagery; and Waldo Kleynhans spoke about the use of Sentinel-1 data in detecting vessels in South African waters. Also from South Africa, Joel Dabrowski from the University of Pretoria presented a novel variant of a dynamic Bayesian network for modelling and classifying the behaviour of maritime vessels in a piracy situation.

Despite the challenges of coordinating presentations across several time zones (Europe, South Africa and the United States), the format of combining online and in-person presentations nonetheless worked very well. And the postgraduate students and researchers who were present at the conference venue in Cape Town benefited from the additional opportunities offered during the tea and lunch breaks, as well as during the ice-breaker and the conference dinner, for networking and interacting informally with knowledgeable individuals across a diverse range of fields.