Mapping Australia's environment
Land mapping tools developed by UQ’s Joint Remote Sensing Research Program have been adopted by multiple Australian states and industry bodies, helping inform effective environmental management policies at local, state and national levels.
Many children dream of broadening their horizons, documenting the unique environment around them, and ultimately changing the world.
One of UQ’s proudest accomplishments is being home to researchers who have revolutionised and modernised the way Australia's environment is monitored and mapped.
The Joint Remote Sensing Research Program (JRSRP) was established and is run by the Remote Sensing Research Centre in UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Their simple, but highly effective, approach allows governments to integrate the latest developments in satellite mapping technology from space agencies and global aerospace companies into their day-to-day operations.
JRSRP staff conduct the fundamental research that allows our state and territory governments to measure and map environmental changes for critical problems like drought and fire impacts. Other applications include leading the development of approaches used by government to map the full extent of horticulture, such as mangos, macadamia and avocados, for industry and biosecurity purposes.
For example, UQ's JRSRP uses satellite imagery to address some of Australia's key natural resource challenges. Its applications have also helped plan for and respond to biosecurity risks, floods, fires and disasters.
After starting out as a resource to assist the Queensland Government in 2007, the JRSRP has established a global network of partners, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Africa and Germany.
Through these partnerships, the JRSRP's research and applications are helping inform projects around the world.
For example, the team has worked with international collaborators, including the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, to contribute to global monitoring of forests and woodlands.
But you don’t have to be thinking out-of-this-world to understand the impact of the information the program has made accessible.
For example, VegMachine is an application the JRSRP developed that allows farmers and graziers to monitor changes in vegetation cover over the last 30 years.
Fifth-generation cattle grazier Mr Dan Burnham provided a glimpse of how the online tool simplifies access to satellite-derived information.
"It helps to inform decision-making about on-farm management,” Mr Burnham said.
"It helps you get a benchmark of each paddock so you can see if you're improving over time.
“(You can see) if putting in a fence, for example, has worked and ground cover has improved.”
The program's genesis was last century.
Queensland’s state government required a way to map and monitor natural resources to inform key policies and their implementation, but lacked the resources and expertise to achieve it alone.
After extended years of communication and developmental work, UQ established the JRSRP to create algorithms, satellite imagery processing systems and scientific methods to achieve those objectives.
Initial tasks related to the monitoring and mapping of vegetation and catchment areas using satellite imagery.
Following the success of the program in Queensland, the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage joined the program in 2008.
Other organisations soon followed, including the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
In 2009, the JRSRP created Australia’s first nation-wide Landsat archive of satellite imagery, and made satellite-derived products, field data sets, operational algorithms and procedures available to other organisations through various open data portals.
“This enhanced the mapping of our national environment and supported research and operational activities of organisations such as the CSIRO, Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network and, more recently, Digital Earth Australia,” says JRSRP Director, UQ's Professor Stuart Phinn.
The JRSRP’s fractional land cover algorithm has since become the national standard.
JRSRP also provides information to support reporting on water quality targets for the Great Barrier Reef, and informs grazing land management throughout Queensland and other states and territories.
“The JRSRP's research has helped develop a robust mapping and monitoring capability that is able to respond to government policy requirements or priorities,” Professor Phinn says.
The story so far
2007: UQ's Joint Remote Sensing Research Program is officially established to support the Queensland Government’s Vegetation Management Act 1999, led by representatives from the Queensland Government and UQ’s Centre for Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Science (now the Remote Sensing Research Centre).
2008: The New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage joins the JRSRP.
2009: The JRSRP creates Australia’s first nation-wide Landsat archive of satellite imagery, and makes satellite-derived products, field data sets, operational algorithms and procedures available to other organisations, including the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network.
2010: The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning joins the JRSRP.
2014: The University of New South Wales joins the JRSRP.
2017: The University of New England joins the JRSRP.
All images are from the Queensland Government gallery of satellite images.