Project Description

Digital imagery is ubiquitous in daily life and forms the basis for many research datasets and outputs. Earth science has long used visual representations to interpret the Earth and to communicate this understanding. Traditionally these were in the form of hand drawn cross-sections and maps, but increasingly take the form of digital imagery. In addition, further data can be displayed in its spatial context, for example, reflectivity, absorption, and chemical analyses, and similar imagery is used across the environmental sciences for crop health, soil chemistry and glacial retreat, to mention a few. As we draw scientific conclusions and make decisions about how we manage our environment and address sustainability and net zero goals from digital imagery it is critical that we understand how we, as humans, interact with, interpret, and ultimately use this imagery to communicate our decisions.  

Psychological research of human-image interaction shows that presentation has a significant impact on view and interpretation. Such bias is most commonly focused on in product marketing (e.g. Meng et al. 2022), using eye tracking technology to track and monitor human-image engagement. In previous work, between the investigators, we considered the influence of colour map choice, for geophysical imagery, on gaze, showing that colour map choice influenced gaze (Bond and Tatler, 2020). Here we propose to build on this work combining both eye and mouse tracking to gather both information on gaze (eye tracking) and interaction (mouse tracking) to understand how people interact with and interpret Earth science imagery. We will use geophysical and satellite imagery as our initial datasets. This focus is driven by the fact that interpretation of geophysical imagery underpins understanding of Earth resources – water, critical minerals and storage sites for CO2, hydrogen and nuclear waste that are needed to address energy security and net zero targets. The second focus on satellite imagery is driven by their broader use in Earth and environmental science across a range of challenges. For both geophysical and satellite imagery false colour is often used in their presentation; so, understanding the impact of colour choice on image interpretation is key. The outputs of the project will be used to inform best practice in visual data interpretation, use of colour choice and framing across Earth and environmental science and for communication of science using imagery.  

This project brings together researchers in Geo and Environmental Science with Psychology to address fundamental questions about how Earth and environmental scientists use and interpret digital imagery in their practice. The focus on Earth imagery and processes centres the project within NERC’s vision to place environmental science at the heart of responsible management of our planet. To deliver on this vision we need to understand how digital imagery is interpreted and used to communicate this science and to inform responsible management. QUADRAT’s themes of Earth Systems, Biodiversity and Environmental Management will all benefit from the findings of the project. The prospect of broadening the impact of our findings by leveraging the DTP network and engaging in QUADRAT network activities is exciting and significant. 


The candidate should have an interest in interdisciplinary research and in the use of novel methods and techniques to create impact across sectors. The candidate can come from a range of backgrounds, but numerical skills for example basic python/matlab would be desirable, or a desire/ability to learn. The candidate will be required to recruit individuals to take part in experiments and to work with a range of stakeholders and partners, so experience of communication and engagement is essential.  

Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash


Clare Bond

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Clare Bond
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Jennifer McKinley

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Jennifer McKinley
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Additional Supervisor:

Professor Ben Tatler 

University of Aberdeen, Psychology Department



Bond, C. and Tatler, B. Expert and novice gaze in seismic interpretation, implications for colour palette choice and learning. In EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts, p. 19067. 2020. 

Meng, L., Kou, S., Duan, S., Jiang, Y. and Lü, K., 2022. How a blurry background in product presentation influences product size perception. Psychology & Marketing, 39(8), pp.1633-1645. 


  • biodiversity
  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management

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