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Australia’s living skin bared in stunning three dimensions

November 26, 2014

The entire country is now represented as a digital grid with two billion ‘pixels’ that are about 90 by 90 metres, down to a depth of two metres below the surface.

The Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia, launched today at the National Soil Science Conference in Melbourne, is the result of a partnership between CSIRO, the University of Sydney, several federal, state and territory government agencies and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).

The Grid draws information from the partner agency databases weaving together both historical and current data generated from sampling, laboratory sensing, modelling and remote sensing.

The Grid also includes estimates of reliability and is designed to integrate new data in the future – even data generated by technology that has not yet been invented.

Soil and landscape attributes such as soil water, nutrients and clay, affect the sustainability of Australia’s natural resources and the profitability of sectors such as agriculture, mining and infrastructure.

From exploring new land use options, to making the most of water, to finding habitats for endangered native species, this technology has applications we are only just beginning to imagine.”

Mike Grundy

CSIRO Research Director Mike Grundy said the Grid had already woven together hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of past soil and landscape science into a new ‘digital tapestry’.

“The research community has known we need better ways to make this diverse information available; new science and technology has let us make the most of the rich data we have,” Mr Grundy said.

“From exploring new land use options, to making the most of water, to finding habitats for endangered native species, this technology has applications we are only just beginning to imagine.”

The Grid will be beneficial to a wide range of applications and users including urban and regional planners, land managers, farming groups, scientists and engineers.

Alexandra Gartmann, CEO at Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal and former CEO of Birchip Cropping Group, has worked with rural industries for almost two decades. Ms Gartmann said she was excited by the new technology.

“Knowledge is power, and our agricultural industries have a very narrow margin for error these days, so the more knowledge to reduce poor decisions, the better,” Ms Gartmann said.

“Agribusiness will benefit from this technology, both at the farm scale — with data to inform production models and risk management decisions — and industry scale, as it draws together many years of past research and knowledge for future investment decisions.

“The Soil and Landscape Grid is a huge leap forward. With its national datasets and consistent and comparable data, it has huge potential for regional development, informing planning and decision-making.”

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Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia
Research Director Mike Grundy discusses new technology used for the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia.

Transcript

Mike Grundy: The Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia uses some quite remarkable opportunities and technology for Australia to understand its landscapes in a quite new way.

The partners in the project imagined what the future could and should look like. Effectively we’ve jumped to the future rather than built from the past but to get there we’ve made the most of this great richness of our historic legacy data.

We’ve used the opportunities here that have arisen from the great advances in information technology to make sure that this information is easily, freely, fully accessible to anyone who wants to use it and in any way they want to use it.

This has been the result of a major collaborative effort, one of the largest ever attempted in Australian soil science, includes CSIRO, state and federal governments, University of Sydney, Geoscience Australia and the glue that the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (that we call TERN) was able to provide.

We built this new form of soil information in this way because it is clear that this sort of information is what’s needed to underpin the decision making processes around our social, economic and environmental futures.

Knowledge is power
Alex Gartmann discusses the benefits this new technology will bring to agribusiness.

Transcript

Alex Gartmann: Knowledge is power and our agricultural industries have a very narrow margin for error these days, so the more knowledge to reduce poor decisions, the better.

Agribusiness will benefit from this technology. Both at the farm scale, with data to inform production models and risk management decisions, but also for industry drawing together many years of past research and knowledge for better future investment decisions.

The Soil and Landscape Grid is a huge leap forward. It’s a national data set, it has consistent and comparable data and it has huge potential for regional development informing planning and decision making.

The Grid has limitless applications agribusiness, farmers, local government, regional planners and policy makers all operate in a hyper-connected and fast-paced environment. This grid provides real-time and easily accessible soil and landscape data that can reduce margin for error and inform better decision making.

Grain farmers in particular will benefit from this soil grid. The data is really useful in various decision making models so that they can make informed decisions around time of planting, varieties, nitrogen and other input applications. So it’s all about reducing their risk and ensuring that production and profit is maximised.

Infrastructure decisions for regional Australia have to be thought through. They are generally expensive, so having the best informed decisions supported by real-time relevant and accurate data is essential and that’s what this soil and landscape grid provides.

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