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Director’s Update – August 2020

Welcome to the August 2020 TERN eNewsletter. If you have only limited time to spend with our stories this month, I recommend you at least allow yourself to be re-energised and inspired by two short videos that feature in our Centre Spotlight story. In the videos, PhD students Zara Marais and Sean Krisanski at University of Tasmania talk respectively about valuing natural capital; and using drone technology to map areas of dense undergrowth and dense canopy.

TERN received some welcome news earlier this month with the announcement by The Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Education, of $1.7 million to TERN to replace ecosystem monitoring equipment damaged by the recent bushfires and to look at making our sites more resilient in the face of extreme events such as bushfires. In addition to the significant damage in late 2019 at our Tumbarumba Wet Eucalypt Supersite, there were 54 TERN Surveillance plots burnt in the 2019-2020 bushfire season – 42 in rangelands and 12 in forest areas – which will be revisited as soon as COVID-19 travel restrictions allow, to provide valuable information on post-fire recovery rates and ecosystem resilience. Preparations for the Kangaroo Island surveys are already underway.  In addition to restoring the Tumbarumba SuperSite to full operation, TERN is looking at what new materials and processes are available for the other SuperSites to shield and insulate critical cables, guy wires, and sensors against heat and other extreme conditions so that we can secure the continuity of TERN’s valuable data streams.  Indeed, the importance of data as a key enabler for improving Australia’s climate and disaster resilience was emphasised in CSIRO’s 30 June 2020 report to the Prime Minister.

In September, TERN’s Executive Group will hold its annual strategic planning workshop (virtually). The focus of the day will be looking at the dynamic data products TERN is creating across its three thematic pillars: ecosystem biodiversity; carbon and water; and land and terrain for the purpose of weeding out duplication of effort and ensuring a standard approach to all TERN data and platforms.  Additionally, standard methods and data collection will play a major role in the planned reforms of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, as mooted in the 2020 Interim Report of the Independent Review of the EPBC Act. Other significant programs where TERN’s standardised methods and quality-controlled data will be important are the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) program and Australian State of Environment (SoE) reporting.

The Australian government has invested significantly in NESP to deliver applied environmental and climate research between 2021 and 2027. Resilient Landscapes is one of four hubs to be funded under NESP and is tasked with guiding “management of Australia’s terrestrial and freshwater habitats to promote resilience, sustainability and productive practices”. All four hubs will also foster cross-cutting research on several common areas, including contributing to “protecting threatened and migratory species and ecological communities” and helping “drive climate adaptation and improve Australia’s climate resilience”.

A similar structure is being adopted as the framework for the next Australian State of Environment (SoE) report in 2021. Land, Inland Waters and Biodiversity were three separate themes in the last two SoE reports. In 2021, the first two of these will be addressed together as Resilient Landscapes with Biodiversity now handled as a cross-cutting issue shared between Resilient Landscapes and the marine/coastal, built environment and Antarctic themes. The NESP hubs are a focus for delivering the insights needed within SoE, which will report for each theme on relevant Drivers and Pressures, States and Trends, Resilience, Management Effectiveness and Risks. TERN data on ecosystem function and temporal changes should be an important input.  SoE itself is aligned with international goals (e.g. Sustainable Development Goals) and reporting targets (e.g. Aichi Biodiversity Targets) and with DAWE’s support for the EPBC Act. Most Australian States and Territories also produce State of Environment reports that increasingly seek to align around common principles and indicators. Thus, it is critical that TERN packages its data products so that they can contribute meaningfully to such policy and management outcomes and impacts.

Ensuring TERN data is both relevant and accessible to researchers associated with the Resilient Landscapes theme of the NESP and SoE programs will allow TERN to also have impact with respect to those predicting the cumulative impacts of development on the environment.  For the past two years, TERN has been supporting the Expert Panel, chaired by Professor Rob Vertessy FTSE, which has been carrying out the Federal Government’s scoping study for research infrastructure currently defined as a “National Environmental Prediction System” (NEPS). A draft Implementation Plan for such an infrastructure has now been submitted to the Government by the Expert Panel and the expectation is that it will provide the basis for discussion during the next Research Infrastructure Roadmap preparation, which is due to commence its consultation phase later this year. The draft NEPS Plan suggests that an investment in a NEPS research infrastructure will produce the necessary transformation in transdisciplinary environmental research by enabling ecologists, computer scientists, environmental modellers and statisticians to co-develop the next generation data sets and models required that will underpin improved management of Australia’s terrestrial ecosystems, and ultimately, other environmental domains.

Australia’s National Science Week has just ended and TERN was proud to be part of the official program with a blog on science impacts enabled by TERN’s research infrastructure.  Another example of our work will be provided on Wednesday 2 September at 3pm AEST when we hold our second national webinar and hear how Jo Owens from the University of Southern Queensland uses TERN flux and satellite-derived data to improve evapotranspiration and groundcover modelling.

Happy reading.

Beryl-Morris

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