Monitoring Australia’s Ecosystems

Monitoring Australia’s Ecosystems
August 5, 2016 Lauren Attana

Dr Andrew McGrath

eRSA services in use: Storage and back up

In an effort to improve understanding and management of Australia’s ecosystems, a network of stakeholders have collaborated to undergo an intensive field study of sites across the country.

Since 2012 Airborne Research Australia (ARA), a Research Centre based at Flinders University, has used its specialised aircraft, carrying sophisticated sensor packages, to produce high-resolution data of the Earth’s surface for the national Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).

Dr Andrew McGrath, ARA Senior Research Fellow, said the data collected by ARA contributes to TERN providing a consistent baseline for environmental reporting. This data better defines the condition of vegetation, fauna populations and ecosystems across Australia, allowing researchers to monitor and enhance their understanding of changes that occur.

“AusCover, TERN’s remote sensing data facility, chose a dozen sample sites across Australia for the project – each around 5km by 5km in size and all featuring native vegetation in good condition,” he said.

AusCover provides access to remote sensing data and products from satellite and airborne imagery, which offers researchers data to answer how key environmental variables change over space and time.

“AusCover surveys include people on the ground counting leaves and identifying soil types, and ARA flying over with remote sensing instrumentation such as hyperspectral line scanners and lidar, which provides information about the biochemistry of each plant as well as the structure and shape of the land, contributing to data made available through AusCover,” Dr McGrath said.

Aware of the large datasets collected by the ARA for TERN and other projects, eRSA recognised the ARA’s need for a long-term archive to store their extensive data.

“Some of our datasets are up to five terabytes,” Dr McGrath said. “It is absolutely important that the data we are collecting is accessible for a long time into the future as in the past datasets have been lost.

“In the past we quite literally had wheelbarrows full of hard disks because the data we were collecting was too big to store any other away.

“To future-proof our data, we store it in multiple copies on multiple sites on separate hard drives, as well as on eRSA’s storage, which provide a secure, long term archive for us.

“We are storing over 20 terabytes of our raw data archives with eRSA.”

Dr McGrath said that one of AusCover’s roles is to provide information on what constitutes a healthy environment, so others can then refer back to it in years to come, so future-proofing the data is of the upmost importance.

“It’s great that eRSA is affiliated with the universities because anyone working in these areas will potentially have access to this data, if and when they need it,” Dr McGrath said.

“In the future if someone is looking at an environment based-lined by AusCover, or a similar environment, they will be able to tell what is in good condition and what is not by referring to our data.”

“From a distance the area may be covered in trees, but with our high resolution data we can tell if all the grasses or midlevel bushes are gone.”

As small changes to vegetation may not be obvious to the untrained eye, tracking data over time is an incredibly important step in understanding the environment.

“Without having this baseline of what constitutes a healthy environment, you would never know,” Dr McGrath said.

“For example, one of the sites we collected data from has since been affected by a bushfire.

“Working from the initial data we were able to establish and investigate the natural recovery of the environment and how the plants re-establish themselves.

“With such important and ever-growing datasets we will continue to use eRSA as a sizeable permanent source and repository for storing and sharing data with our collaborators, now and into the future.”

Want to have a chat with Dr Andrew McGrath about his research and tools used? Details below:

Phone: (08) 8182 4000


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