Discover the latest breakthroughs in environmental research infrastructure as 3 additional sites in TERN’s national monitoring network embrace state-of-the-art critical zone observing equipment. Explore the innovative Vadose-zone Monitoring System (VMS) and its potential to improve our understanding of how water, carbon and metal moves around ecosystems, manage grazing pressure and track the flows of industrial contaminants.
In a significant development for environmental science research in South Australia and Queensland, new state-of-the-art research infrastructure has been unveiled at 2 existing TERN sites and 1 new site. These now join the Western Australian Ridgefield site and New South Wales Wellington site as fully-equipped nodes of the TERN-supported Australian Critical Zone Observatories network (OzCZO).
The ‘critical zone’ is our planet’s outer layer, encompassing everything from the treetops to the bedrock, where all life is supported. It is an environment where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact and shape the Earth’s surface.
South Australian – River Murray floodplains
The TERN Calperum Mallee SuperSite near Renmark is now fully-functioning as a Critical Zone Observatory site. Key critical zone monitoring additions to the site’s infrastructure which allow it to study the critical zone are a Vadose-zone Monitoring System (VMS), developed by Sensoil, and a new groundwater well. Further developments will occur in February 2024 when heat needles are installed. These measure conductive heat flow at the earth’s surface and are part of a collaboration with NCRIS-enabled AuScope.
The recently installed VMS helps scientists keep an eye on the space between the Earth’s surface and the groundwater below—the vadose zone— to monitor hydrological and biogeochemical processes as well as elemental and nutrient fluxes in this space that are critical for life and local ecosystems. The VMS provides real-time, continuous data and enables the sampling of pore water and soil gases on-demand from the unsaturated zone, a critical area for understanding water and material movement and soil health.
Dr Juraj Farkas, Senior Lecturer and Isotope Geochemist at the University of Adelaide, explains how the VMS works and why it’s an important piece of kit.
Queensland – Burdekin catchment
In Queensland, the ground-breaking VMS technology has been installed at the TERN Fletcherview Tropical Rangeland SuperSite inland from Townsville, and a site new to TERN at Petrie in the Moreton Bay region just north of Brisbane.
Dr Jamie Cleverly, Senior Research Fellow at James Cook University, says that the VMS system at Fletcherview, a fully functional cattle station operated by James Cook University for research and teaching, will allow scientists to gather real-time data to complement a range of ecological and agricultural studies. Some of these latter studies include the tracking of the life cycle (which is known as phenology) of savanna vegetation, acoustic records of bird and frog activity, monitoring of forage levels in the presence and absence of grazing, and measurement of water flow through trees as they transport moisture from the soil to the air.
Queensland – Moreton Bay
Professor David Chittleborough of the University of the Sunshine Coast says that VMS tech at the new peri-urban Petrie site in South-East Queensland will be used to identify the movement and transformation of carbon, nutrients and colloids from the landscape which has had multiple uses, including industrial, urbanisation and forestry.
The research infrastructure at Calperum, Fletcherview and Ridgefield also includes carbon, water and energy-monitoring flux stations, soil probes, groundwater monitoring wells, soil moisture sensors, biodiversity monitoring plots, and remote sensing technology. Similar equipment is set to be installed at Petrie in the coming year.
TERN’s data infrastructure is making the data collected by all these instruments and surveys openly available to researchers and decision makers around Australia and across the world to better understand ecosystem change and make management and conservation decisions.