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What is TERN?

TERN is Australia’s land ecosystem observatory.

We observe, measure and record critical terrestrial ecosystem parameters and conditions for Australia over time from continental scale to field sites at hundreds of representative locations.

This information is standardised, integrated and transformed into model-ready data, enabling researchers to discern and interpret changes in land ecosystems.

Understanding ecosystem change, the rate of change, and underlying causes is essential for effectively protecting and managing Australia’s environment and the many services it provides.



The National Need for TERN

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.

In order to meet current and future challenges, questions that Australia needs to address include:

  • How are our ecosystems responding to environmental pressures, and how might positive trends be enhanced and negative consequences managed?
  • How is our environment likely to alter in the future, for example in relation to a changing climate?
  • How are significant environmental assets—soils, carbon stocks, water, vegetation and biodiversity—responding to such changes and to their management?
  • How resilient are the ecosystem services upon which our society and many of our industries depend, such as soil health, nutrient cycling, fire mitigation, provision of clean water, crop pollination and carbon sequestration? 

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. Our three key themes of measurement are BiodiversityCarbon & Water, and Land & Terrain.


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.


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

  • Landscape assessment 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.
  • Ecosystem surveillance monitoring, which enables us to monitor and detect biodiversity change across a wider spatial extent of environments. TERN uses an extensive network of monitoring plots distributed strategically through the country.
  • 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.

TERN’s Data Services and Analytics platform manages datasets derived from its terrestrial ecosystem field observatory. 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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