Mapping a new course for environmental management

Mapping a new course for environmental management
July 21, 2015 Morgan Reid

Professor Megan Lewis & Dr Kenneth Clarke

Our research involves using satellite and earth observation images from NASA, the US Government or the Australian Government to assess and monitor land conditions over very big areas.

Just a few years ago, in order to understand what was happening in an ecosystem, researchers had to spend significant time and money venturing into the field. But with the help of organisations like eRSA, ecologists such as Professor Megan Lewis and Dr Kenneth Clarke are now beginning to map and monitor environments with the touch of a fingertip. “In broad terms, our research involves using satellite and earth observation images from NASA, the US Government or the Australian Government to assess and monitor land conditions over very big areas,” Professor Lewis said.

“We analyse this data which gives us information about soils, vegetation and other indicators of land cover and land condition. Most of our work is for Governments, both State and Federal, in order to monitor data and assess how ecosystems are tracking – are they stable, getting worse or getting better. Or if they’re investing large sums of money in land management programs – what is the outcome of that? Traditionally ecologists have done this work by going out into the field and counting plants, or sampling vegetation and soils at isolated locations around the country. That’s very expensive and time consuming, and it only gives you little bits of information at infrequent intervals.

“One of the really big benefits of using this satellite imagery is it covers the whole landscape, comprehensively. And it can do it on a repeated basis. Much of the data we use is available free, which also makes it extremely cost effective.” Professor Lewis and Dr Clark have established a partnership with eRSA on a national project, AusCover, which aims to develop new information sources for environmental management agencies to enable them to carry out their role more effectively. AusCover is a facility of TERN, the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network. “Each of the AusCover nodes in the States around Australia generally has a specific area of expertise. Ours is monitoring soil exposure for soil erosion risk,” Dr Clarke said. “We’ve developed a national remote soil exposure index and using eRSA servers, put that into the AusCover online data pool that anyone can access for free around Australia.”

Dr Clarke said the pair hoped to further develop the capabilities of the online data. “Ideally, we would like to use eRSA’s advanced processing capabilities to have scripts set up to acquire the satellite imagery as it’s acquired by the satellite. When users go to the data portal they’ll see the soil exposure index up to the most recent date,” he said. “eRSA have been very easy to work with and they’ve been able set-up the server and link it nationally without me having to get heavily involved in the process. “It’s very reassuring to have the professional expertise of a large group like eRSA to draw on to do that rather than having to do it all ourselves.”

Want to have a chat with Professor Megan Lewis and Dr Kenneth Clarke about their research and tools used? Details below:

Professor Megan Lewis
Phone: (08) 8313 6522 

Dr Kenneth Clarke
Phone: (08) 8313 8112


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