Heather Selley

Heather Selley



Twitter: @HeatherSelley

ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0793-8144

Measuring ice speed in Antarctica at high resolution using synthetic aperture radar satellite data

I am a PhD student in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, working in the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science (ICAS) within the Satellite Ice Dynamics (SID) group. I am funded by the School of Earth Environment, an Alumni donor, the European Space Agency (ESA) Support To Science Element (STSE) Programme, the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) and I won the Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG) subsidiary of British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG) Foundation Main Grant to support my continued studies. I was on The Alun Turing Institute Enrichment Scheme for 6 months and continue to be affiliated with the ATI.

My primary field is Earth Observation of the Polar Regions, where I use a variety of satellite data types including Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), optical and altimetry. I use this satellite data to look at speed, elevation change, the mass balance of ice sheets and the structure of ice shelves in primarily Antarctica. I am interested in measuring how Antarctica is changing and investigating what is driving the changes such as the ocean and atmosphere. My research focuses on measuring and interpreting changes in the Antarctica Ice Sheet using satellite data. I look at how large areas of fast-moving ice, called glaciers, flow from the ice sheet into the ocean and whether there are changes in speed.  By using high-resolution satellite data we can measure these changes in speed and calculate the amount of ice loss in ever-increasing detail, enabling us to refine our projections of ice sheet’s contribution to sea-level rise. 

NERC SENSE Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Champion

I am currently seconded from my PhD as the SENSE EDI champion. The SENSE Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) Champion aims to improve equality, diversity and inclusion practices in higher education in geosciences, one of the least racially diverse fields at the postgraduate level (e.g., Dowey et al., 2021). The SENSE Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) won funding from the National Environment Research Council (NERC) for this role and aims to address EDI challenges faced by the environmental science PhD community. The EDI champion will analyse and assess the current EDI practices used by SENSE and design and implement new initiatives. This will include analysing applications, creating toolkits for PhD applicants and organizing wellbeing events for the current cohorts. I will be working as the SENSE Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Champion until March 2023.

What is your background?

I’m seconding into the SENSE EDI champion role from my PhD, to work full time on a topic that I have volunteered on for many years and feel very strongly about. I am very keen to play an active role in improving the working environment for PhD students, and I hope to use this EDI role to deliver practical action and meaningful change. My PhD focuses on using satellite data to measure changes in ice flow speeds in Antarctica. I’m a first-generation PhD student and am in my final year so I can bring my lived experiences, as well as knowledge, to the role. I’m a neurodivergent, disabled woman and have navigated many of the university systems myself and hope to improve the experience for others. Alongside my PhD, and since I was an undergraduate, I have always engaged with mentoring and diversity initiatives. This has been through working for the university careers services, peer mentoring, going into local schools to work with underrepresented groups, sitting on equality, diversity, and inclusion committees and creating and running wellbeing events such as the SENSE Not Another Wellbeing workshop. I have dedicated a lot of my time to volunteering for groups such as the University of Leeds Disability, Accessibility and Mental Health Network and Polar Impact a network of racial and ethnic minorities and allies in Polar Research. Here, I lead an outreach project to engage underrepresented school children with the polar regions through augmented reality enabled postcards.

Why is this such an important issue?

Investing in Equality and Diversity has always been of vital importance, especially in geoscience, one of the least racially diverse fields at the postgraduate level [1]. Early career researchers (in or a few years after their PhDs) are more diverse than ever [2]. However, underrepresented groups are subject to discriminatory and exclusionary practices [1,3,4], and have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic due to reduced opportunities [2]. One in two PhD students experience common mood disorders such as depression and/or anxiety [5,6], a rate six times higher than the general population [6]. Disabled students for instance must invest a lot of time and energy to access support and wait for necessary reasonable adjustments to be put in place [7]. Our diversity is made up of a unique blend of our demographic, experiential and cognitive diversity and every person is unique. However, there are many barriers to PhDs and academia that underrepresented groups commonly encounter, but with the right support, information, and opportunity I hope academia will become a more diverse and enjoyable environment for all. Often these underrepresented groups invest a lot of time and energy in advocating for their needs, learning the ‘unwritten rules’ of the academia, having to navigate a system that isn’t welcoming to their identity and educating others to move towards a better environment, without compensation and with little to no information. I hope through this role I can contribute somewhat to easing the burden on underrepresented groups.

What will you be doing?  

I will be doing a variety of activities in this role. I will be analysing applications, the application process, training programme and getting feedback from students about their experiences and potential improvements to accessibility. Spotlighting and showcasing our students’ diversity, best practices and amazing work. Creating toolkits for improving understanding and support available for students with diverse backgrounds. Running workshops and webinars on a variety of issues including careers beyond academia, the PhD application process, how to be an ally and rerunning not another wellbeing workshop. I will also be offering mentoring to our cohorts of students and identifying different support needs at different stages of their PhDs.   

What are your hopes for the role?  

I hope to create many useful resources and evidence that further investment in equality, diversity and inclusion should be valued highly. I hope to improve the experience of our cohorts by expanding on SENSE’s exemplary best practices and demystifying PhDs for a wider audience. I have found all my roles both voluntary and paid in this area extremely rewarding and am excited to dedicate my time and energy to this opportunity. On a personal level, I look forward to expanding my knowledge about all aspects of EDI and getting the opportunity to work with the SENSE team and students.  

Any tips for those interested in engaging more with Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity?  

There is so much information out there from a wide range of communities and sources. Everyone is busy, however, taking the time to educate yourself on issues that may or may not affect you will give you so much understanding and value. Start by listening to those with lived experience, this doesn’t have to be done in person and can be watching a short YouTube video or listening to a podcast and advocating for other communities.  If you’re unsure of how to respond in uncomfortable situations the principles of active bystander training are a good place to start. Keeping an open mind and signing up for opportunities such as webinars and training when they come up is a great way to get started.  


[1] Dowey, N., Barclay, J., Fernando, B., Giles, S., Houghton, J., Jackson, C., … & Williams, R. (2021). A UK perspective on tackling the geoscience racial diversity crisis in the Global North. Nature Geoscience14(5), 256-259. 

[2] Fisher, B. J., Shiggins, C. J., Naylor, A. W., Rawlins, L. D., Tallentire, G. D., van den Heuvel, F., … & Buckingham, J. (2021). Interventions to prevent pandemic-driven diversity loss. Communications Earth & Environment2(1), 1-4. 

[3] Marín-Spiotta, E., Barnes, R. T., Berhe, A. A., Hastings, M. G., Mattheis, A., Schneider, B., & Williams, B. M. (2020). Hostile climates are barriers to diversifying the geosciences. Advances in Geosciences53, 117-127. 

[4] Hughes, B. E. (2018). Coming out in STEM: Factors affecting retention of sexual minority STEM students. Science advances4(3), eaao6373. 

[5] Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research policy46(4), 868-879. 

[6] Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature biotechnology36(3), 282-284. 

[7] Hannam-Swain, S. (2018). The additional labour of a disabled PhD student. Disability & Society33(1), 138-142. 

Research experience

PhD Researcher

  • This project uses high-resolution remote sensing data to study changes in ice velocities of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. I explore the importance of ice dynamics in different sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
  • I have led several publications and collaborated with international colleagues along with participating and contributing to several projects such as NERC DeCAdeS and ESA Polar+ Ice Shelves.
  • I proposed the naming of 9 glaciers in Antarctica from one of my papers which was announced by the UK Prime Minister at the G20 summit. This involved working with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, No. 10 press office, UK space agency, BAS, ESA, CPOM, Priestly Centre and the Alun Turing Institute.
  • This project is funded by the European Space Agency Support to Science Element programme, the School of Earth and Environment and an alumni donor, the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM). I also won the Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG) subsidiary of British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG) Foundation Main Grant for £6,000 to support my continued studies.
  • I recently finished a 6 month placement with the Alun Turing Institute Enrichment Scheme spent at Leeds Institute for Data Analytics enriching my research and making new collaborations and an additional stipend top-up.
  • I organised, ran and chaired an internal seminar series focusing on bringing together different research areas that use similar satellite techniques (2019-2020). This brought together PhD students, Postdoc’s, lecturers and industry.

MSc Glaciology Researcher

  • This master’s degree provided a strong theoretical, conceptual and applied background to glaciology, EO and GIS. Dissertation (Distinction) on mapping Blue Ice Areas of Western Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica. Elective modules tailored towards remote sensing, spectral object-orientated classifications and change detection.

Research Assistant - paid internship with a NERC GW4+ DTP PHD (2016)

  • I digitised and produced maps of rock glaciers within the Hindu-Kush region. The data is being utilised for a PhD candidate work on cryospheric water stores, see publications.



I have helped to supervise a variety of students during my time at the University of Leeds, this has included:

Masters dissertations:

  • Julia Andreasen – 2018-2019

Undergraduate dissertations:

  • Chloe Badge – 2019
  • Susanna Jackson – 2019
  • Abigail Robinson – 2021

Summer students:

  • Abigail Robinson – CPOM 12 week summer placement- 2021, Bed topography of West Antarctica.


Student Education

I have demonstrated on a variety of modules ranging from topics of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, earth surface processes and the cryosphere. This has included:

  • Ice in the Earth System (SOEE3515/SOEE5515M)
  • Skills for Physical Geographers (GEOG2095)
  • Earth Surface Processes (GEOG2080) – Fieldtrip

I also assist the Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science (SENSE) Centre for Doctoral training demonstrating for other PhD students on topics including:

  • Ice velocity practical
  • Supervision of project work
  • Machine learning practical

I also featured on a variety of SENSE panels:

I am an Educator on the Future Learn MOOC “Observing Earth from Space” which had over 1,900 people enrolled on the course. This course aimed to teach how the Earth is observed by hundreds of satellites, how they do it, and what this means for the future.



I regularly give outreach talks to school-age students, such as a tale of two poles talking about how we study the Antarctic and Arctic, and the public. I have worked on a variety on of projects and roles including:

  • Supporting the UK Space Education Office (ESERO) to create Escape from Antarctica for A-Level students to be used in the curriculum.
  • Created an interactive outreach session for primary and secondary schools including a demonstration with a model of a valley glacier, which has been delivered to local schools.
  • I was part of the Curious Earth Instagram campaign to engage girls in climate and environmental science.
  • I am a Space4Climate champion which involves representing the Space4Climate community and also being digital media broadcast trained. I was also on the Space4Climate Green (public) Zone at COP26 interacting with the public and answering questions.
  • I am organising a stand highlighting the research we do using satellite data to look at ice sheets at the University of Leeds Be Curious 2022 research open event. 
  • I was a consultant to the Centre of Life in Newcastle on the creation of an exhibit on observing the number of penguins in their natural environment using satellite imagery over Antarctica.
  • I processed velocity data and crack propagation for the Brunt Ice Shelf portal.
  • I was University of Leeds COP26 Student Ambassador which was a group of students working to connect young voiced with climate action.

Media and Science Communication

I am enthusiastic about communicating my work using satellite data in the Polar Regions to a wider audience. I am media trained by Boffin Media as part of my role as a Space4Climate Champion. I have provided comments for national and international news including:

  • Newspaper article comments: including the BBC News, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph etc.  
  • TV Interviews: ITV Calendar.

Examples of videos and animations can be found below:

Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity

I have worked on a variety of projects and roles aimed at improving equality, diversity and inclusivity in academia.

  • I organised and ran a Mental Health and your PhD workshop and panel for PGRs at the University of Leeds and Edinburgh University supported by the SENSE Centre for Doctoral Training. The feedback found that 100 % of attendees found the workshop useful and 95 % wanted similar workshops to run more regularly.
  • I am on the School of Earth and Environment Equality and Inclusivity Committee where we aim to improve the department through a variety of projects and initiatives.
  • I am a Social Coordinator for PGRs in the Faculty of Environment which is a role to create and run events to promote community and the wellbeing of PGRs in the faculty.
  • I am a certified Mental Health First Aider by Mental Health First Aid England.
  • Participant in a PGR focus group for the Leeds University Union which meets regularly to discuss issues PGRs face and how they can be better supported.
  • I am a member of the Disability, Accessibility and Mental Health Network (DAMH) where I am part of a task force for creating accessible resources for a variety of conditions that the network experience. The aim is to create a hub of information on the DAMH webpage not only for those identifying with these conditions but also for their colleagues, line managers and friends to learn about the conditions, the impacts they can have and how to help support them.
  • I also volunteer for Polar Impact a network for racial and ethnic minorities and allies in the polar research community. I am the lead organiser for the polar postcard project aimed at connecting inner-city schools with the seemingly remote Polar Regions.



I have completed a variety of training including:

  • Karthaus summer school on Ice Sheets and Glaciers in the Climate System.
  • Certified Mental Health First Aid trained by Mental Health England
  • Mental Health First Aid for Field Teaching, University of Leeds
  • Foundations in Teaching, University of Leeds
  • Outreach induction and training, University of Leeds
  • Safeguarding training, University of Leeds
  • Publication masterclass, University of Leeds
  • Increasing visibility of your research, University of Leeds
  • Making accessible documents, Accessibility In Polar Research



I have presented at a variety of national and international conferences and also chaired sessions. These include:

Selley, H., Hogg, A. & Shepherd, A.: Sensitivity Analysis of Ice Velocity Processing From Sentinel 1-a/b SAR Imagery for Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. Poster session presented at the Living Planet Symposium 2019, 13-17 May 2019

Selley, H., Hogg, A., Cornford, S., Shepherd, A., Dutrieux, P., Wuite, J., Kusk, A., Nagler, T.,  and Gilbert, L.: Increased ice flow in the Getz region of West Antarctica, from 1994 to 2018, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-15996, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu2020-15996 , 2020 

P Dutrieux, A Jenkins, S Jacobs, I Joughin, A Hogg, H Selley, J Mouginot, ... The West Antarctic Ice Sheet Response to Tropical Forcing. AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts 2020, C057-07

Selley, H. L., Hogg, A. E., Cornford, S., Dutrieux, P., Shepherd, A., Wuite, J., ... & Kim, T. W. Widespread increase in dynamic imbalance in the Getz region of Antarctica from 1994 to 2018. UK Antarctic Science conference 2021.

Selley, H. L., Hogg, A. E., Heppenstall, A. & Malleson, N. Machine Learning Applied to Structural Change Mapping. The Alun Turing Institute Research Showcase 2021.

Selley, H.L. & Freer, B. West Antarctica: Getz on the run. COP26 Blue Zone Cryosphere Pavilion side event (2021)


Research interests

  • Earth Observation
  • The Cryosphere
  • Glaciology
  • Ice Velocity
  • Mass Balance 
  • Sentinel-1
  • Equality, diversity and inclusivity


  • MSc, Glaciology, Aberystwyth University
  • BSc, Physical Geography, University of Exeter

Research groups and institutes

  • Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science