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Director’s Update – April 2020

Welcome to TERN’s April e-newsletter.

Everyone has been commenting in the past weeks on how busy they are now that we working under movement restrictions. Thus, we recognise that the pandemic crisis has eroded what little time and interest you may have had for keeping up with non-COVID 19 news. Nevertheless, I write this update in the hope that you can salvage a few minutes to open the articles in which we re-discover an introduced weed in Tasmania; help to address hillside erosion in bushfire-damaged areas; make a major world contribution to assessing soil carbon; and pay a visit to Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology. 

In our TERN project, we are forever challenging ourselves to find innovations that will provide extra services for researchers. Unsurprisingly, this year, our main stimulus has come from the issue of movement restrictions that generally occur after extreme events, a point particularly pertinent during the current pandemic but also relevant due to ongoing restrictions in accessing bushfire-affected areas. To this end, TERN is looking at digital solutions to integrate its traditional field-collected data with real-time earth observation images to give home-bound staff an ability to continue monitoring changes in the environment. 

How it works is that TERN has formed a partnership with FAO to trial a special data collection program that inputs details of TERN field sites so the researcher can ‘fly’ to the sites, all thanks to high-resolution satellite imagery. Once at a ‘site’, the researcher then becomes a virtual Time Lord, moving back through the time-series satellite image archive to assess the date-stamped current estimate of cover (a measure of the rapidity of change occurring), if there is any evidence of fire in the image archive and the date of the imagery when that first appeared. The researcher can also visually assess fire severity at three levels: only groundcover; groundcover + some canopy; and entire canopy burnt. Lastly, the researcher can also link to TERN field-collected data to assess visually vegetation cover at the times TERN plots were physically surveyed to quantify the accuracy of the visual interpretation of images method and what and when other major disturbance has occurred at TERN’s plots. If you are interested in finding out more, perhaps so you can add Time Lord to your CV, send an email.

Movement restrictions have caused an unexpected connection to be forged between TERN and the secondary education sector. Teachers no longer able to take their students on field excursions because of COVID 19 are finding value in using TERN’s data and data tools as a way to bring the Australian environment into their online teaching. This new user-group interest in TERN data is causing us to look at revising data training materials so that they are suitable for a broader range of users because we hope that the classroom interest in TERN’s ecosystem data continues to grow. We also hope that the surge of interest currently being exhibited in studying backyard garden biodiversity continues after classroom and office access restrictions are lifted.

Have fun with your magnifying glass – we wish you all good health and happy reading.

Dr Beryl Morris

Beryl-Morris

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