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Director's update


July 2018

As the days grow longer in this second half of 2018, we welcome you to the sixth TERN eNewsletter for the year. One of our internationally-oriented stories this month shows how technology developments are taking ecosystem observations to new heights (“TERN data used in space station study of global climate”). Indeed, as you read this newsletter, observations are already in swing on the International Space Station, led by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The initiative is called ECOSTRESS, which aims to measure how plants, the biosphere and the global carbon cycle respond to water availability and drought. TERN data on the exchanges of energy and water between the land and the atmosphere collected from its nationally-deployed eddy covariance sensors are being used by NASA to validate their satellite collected measurements. The ECOSTRESS video from NASA is worth viewing.

Further on space, the current Australian drive to develop a Space Industry is presenting many opportunities for development of TERN’s future research infrastructure. Through our Landscape Assessment platform, led by Alex Held and Mike Grundy, we have a chance to not only contribute knowledge for the identification of gaps in operational remote sensing technologies to inform investment in future technology innovations but also to use space technology to improve the efficiency of our land-based research infrastructure. For example, imagine developing telemetry for remotely-located sensors using satellite technology rather than undertaking periodic field campaigns to download data. We are very fortunate that through Dr Alex Held from TERN’s Landscape Assessment platform, TERN will have opportunities to learn about developments as Australia expands its space-related research and innovation. Alex has just been announced as the inaugural Director of CSIRO’s new research centre focused on collecting and analysing data about Earth from space – congratulations Alex. 

Back on the ground, many of us have been talking a lot over the years about sustainability with respect to matters such as food production, energy and use of natural resources. Therefore the adoption by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 of what is known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has allowed people to set targets through which they can collectively manage and transform the social, economic and environmental dimensions of our society and planet over the next 15 years. TERN’s research infrastructure and data contribute strongly to Sustainable Development Goal 15 (SDG 15), Life on Land, which requires countries to “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

As examples of TERN’s data contributions to assessing progress against SDG 15, we have two stories in this newsletter which show new data on biodiversity. In one, we describe how TERN is now bringing data on biodiversity from more than 10 million hectares of land in central Australia (“Tanami Indigenous biodiversity data released”), while the other describes a study in which TERN data are being used to identify the impacts of climate change on South Australia’s plant species and plant biodiversity (“The impact of climate change on South Australia’s flora“). We will bring more highlights of our SDG-relevant data in future newsletters and you will also be able to read about projects in Australia, including from TERN, on the government website devoted to SDGs. On this website Australian organisations record who is doing what, and who is partnering with whom to tackle the global goals through local action.

In addition to ensuring our data can be used for evaluating progress towards sustainability, we are working with other NCRIS projects to improve the way we collectively contribute knowledge, information and data to record observations of terrestrial biodiversity from gene to ecosystem levels, monitoring patterns of change and examining the drivers behind change. To improve the interoperability of these projects and to increase services to our researcher community, TERN program leaders are about to join their counterparts from Atlas of Living Australia and BioPlatforms Australia at a biodiversity planning workshop in Melbourne. Ideally, the workshop will plan for more resource-sharing and joint delivery at the data-user interface to reduce the complexity and diversity of data portals related to the environment.

At another Melbourne meeting this week, the National Earth and Environmental Science Facilities Forum, which includes NCRIS projects such as TERN, Atlas of Living Australia, AuScope, IMOS and AURIN, recognised that across the spectrum, we are contributing heterogeneous reference data to users. However, such data is distributed across our respective trusted repositories. In the face of such fragmentation, we agreed to develop ways to share services and increase interoperability so that our data can be used more effectively for prediction in systems such as the planned National Environmental Prediction System. With the emphasis being placed by this forum on making data more useful for prediction, it is heartening to read in “Stepping stones to better climate models” that by providing model-ready data on southern hemisphere ecosystems, TERN has enabled a global scale analysis which is helping to provide the benchmarks necessary for evaluating the predictability of climate models.

With 30 June now in the past, I want to thank a number of people who helped to build TERN but have now completed their respective projects. Dr Emma Burns, Dr Brad Evans, Dr Andy Stephen and Dr Jonathon Hodge have all made stunning contributions to TERN that will continue to enable terrestrial ecosystem research for generations – well done!

And on that note, I wish you all happy reading of this July newsletter.

Dr Beryl Morris

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