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What is TERN?

TERN is Australia’s land ecosystem observatory.

We observe and measure the cause and effect of ecosystem change—from site to continental scale—and deliver data streams that enable environmental research and management.


TERN delivers:

  • Data from TERN’s ecosystem field observatory, including plot data on soil and vegetation; gas, energy, and water exchange data; remote sensing data; and modelled data products about soil, climate, and landscape attributes;
  • Tools for the research community including nationally consistent field methods, vegetation and soil samples for physical analysis, data collection apps, and data publishing tools; and
  • Infrastructure that supports the discovery, access, and re-use of TERN data and other ecosystem data housed in our systems.

Our three key themes are Biodiversity, Land & Terrain, and Carbon & Water.

TERN was established in late 2009 as Australia’s first Commonwealth Government NCRIS grant-funded research infrastructure to deliver a national terrestrial ecosystem observatory providing standardised and integrated measures of changes in Australia’s land-based ecosystem biodiversity.

The goal of TERN is to provide open access for researchers to Australia’s land-based ecosystem monitoring infrastructure, data and research tools and thus contribute to a broader understanding and long-term sustainable management of Australia’s ecosystems.

To achieve its goal, TERN uses consistent and standard ecosystem measures over time to observe and measure ecosystem change across the continent.

From the beginning, the TERN ecosystem field observatory was structured around three key scales of observation:

  • Targeted ecosystem process monitoring, which gives a high level of detail at a small number of sites. This is done through intensive field stations or ‘SuperSites’ which combine instrumented or sensor measurements.
  • Ecosystem surveillance monitoring, which enables us to monitor and detect biodiversity change across a wider spatial extent of environments. TERN uses a specially extensive network of monitoring plots distributed strategically through the country.
  • Landscape monitoring mostly through remote sensing techniques based on satellite data, with the use of airborne data from autonomous vehicles (UAVs). We also undertake modelling and synthesis activities to extrapolate and interpolate from observational data to produce modelled data products.

TERN’s data services manage datasets derived from its terrestrial ecosystem field observatory. Within its data services capability, TERN data infrastructure also enables the Australian community of ecosystem researchers to collect, contribute, store and share data.

TERN’s project management team ensures the observatory and data components of its national infrastructure are fully integrated. Integration of the observatory’s components delivers an exponentially more powerful set of information. 


Watching over our incredible eucalypt ecosystems: Australia's land observatory from TERN Australia on Vimeo.

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