This week marks the twentieth birthday for the towering crane that stands at the heart of James Cook University’s Daintree Rainforest Observatory (DRO) at Cape Tribulation.
While most cranes of this size spend their working lives in construction and industry, this 47-metre-high crane spends its days carrying researchers from the forest floor to the canopy and above.
“Thanks to our operator’s skill and precision, researchers travelling in the crane’s gondola are able to access every level of the forest,” JCU’s Dean of Research Professor Andrew Krockenberger said.
“In recent years we’ve added automated sensors and a wireless data network, allowing researchers to closely monitor a hectare of rainforest, from the soil, up through the forest and to the atmosphere above.
“In a major research project underway, Associate Professor Susan Laurance is creating a mini-drought, to investigate how trees in the wet tropics are likely to respond to the longer, hotter dry seasons expected as a result of climate change.”
Professor Krockenberger said the crane and the DRO were part of a global network.
“Our changing climate means it’s more important than ever to build on our understanding of how forests work, and how they might respond to changing conditions,” he said. “The Observatory is used extensively by local, interstate and international researchers in work that is adding significantly to our understanding of tropical rainforests.”
Research conducted at the DRO has included studies of carbon and water fluxes, tree physiology and ecology, and vertebrate and invertebrate biodiversity.
Community leaders and scientists celebrated at the crane site yesterday.
“It’s a chance for us to thank everyone who has supported us in establishing and expanding the facility – first with the crane, and later the laboratories, teaching space and accommodation that have made this a world-standard research facility and a spectacular classroom in the rainforest,” Professor Krockenberger said.
“We were particularly pleased to be welcoming Mr Andrew Esquilant, representing Liebherr Australia, to the Observatory. He was able to see one of his cranes doing work that its makers probably never imagined.
Not long after it was installed, the crane was struck by a Category 3 cyclone. Tropical Cyclone Rona severely battered the surrounding forest but the crane remained standing – and was soon being used by scientists who took advantage of the opportunity to study rainforest regeneration.
Now it is the longest-standing crane in Australia – twenty years old and going strong.