TERN infrastructure supports international ‘dream team’

TERN’s collaborative networks and infrastructure are drawing international attention and enabling Australian scientists to lead the way in advancing ecosystem science globally. The international value of TERN’s collaborative networks and infrastructure was clearly on show earlier this month, when a group of scientists from around the world descended on Karawatha Forest Park in Brisbane – part of TERN’s SEQ Peri-urban Supersite – to test and compare a suite of terrestrial laser scanners and other techniques for measuring and monitoring vegetation.

The scientists are all part of the Terrestrial Laser Scanning International Interest Group (TLSIIG), a global network of researchers exploring the use of portable instruments that scan and image natural targets, in order to advance the understanding and application of this technology for measuring and monitoring vegetation for different uses.

Terrestrial laser scanners are the best available technology for the measurement of vegetation on the ground, allowing researchers to determine vegetation structure in more detail than ever before, as well as helping them understand other vegetation characteristics such as the amount of woody and non-woody vegetation, and plant health. This kind of information contributes to decisions on environmental issues such as weed management, biomass and carbon accounting, and managing fuel loads.

TERN’s AusCover facility, which has been using terrestrial laser scanning technology across Australia to improve continent-scale mapping of Australia’s vegetation, played a key role in enabling this TLSIIG field campaign.

The cutting edge work carried out by the TLSIIG even drew the attention of the ABC’s 7:30 (Video courtesy of ABC)

During the first week of August, the TLSIIG used the supersite field infrastructure to test and compare five terrestrial laser-scanning systems. These systems included one already used by AusCover, as well as a state-of-the-art dual-wavelength laser-scanning system being developed for AusCover by the CSIRO, Boston University, and collaborators from the University of Massachusetts Boston and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Alongside this, TERN’s AusPlots facility carried out its ‘Photopoint’ method for assessing vegetation structure to enable better understanding of the technique in comparison to the laser scanning technology.

By doing this field work, the group intends to map the strengths and limitations of the different technology and methods. This will enable them to better understand which technology is the best for different research and monitoring contexts, and to complement traditional forest measurement methodologies – important information for organisations and governments around the world trying to plan environmental monitoring programs.

In addition, they’ll be better placed to understand the context and limitations of the data produced by the different equipment, enabling researchers across the globe to more effectively apply this data for a range of purposes.

Critically, the work of the TLSIIG will progress the development and acceptance of internationally consistent approaches to vegetation measurement. The Director of AusCover, Dr Alex Held, said it was a vital step in enabling comparable and accountable monitoring of vegetation across the globe.

‘Terrestrial laser scanners will allow us to measure vegetation in ways that have not been possible before,’ Alex says.

‘We can create much more robust measurements and obtain measurements that, once evaluated for use in different vegetation types, are expected to become comparable to traditional vegetation and forest biomass measurements, and be traceable and accountable.

‘This will be incredibly important for enabling compliance and verification with international agreements, such as the Kyoto protocol and climate-change agreements that follow, which require countries to report on carbon stocks. We have to have rigorous and consistent methods that can be applied in the future with confidence across the globe.’

The TLSIIG will use AusCover’s data infrastructure to publish and share the data that comes out of the field campaign, ensuring that this work is accessible to researchers across the globe.

You can follow the activities of the TLSIIG on the web and view a snapshot of the August field campaign.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter August 2013

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