Major decisions, such as drought declarations, are based on many streams of information, creating databases that are fundamental to governments and farmers alike.
But Queensland is a very big place…
Agricultural Engineering researcher Jo Owens is undertaking cutting edge work to improve key land and water modelling using satellite imagery and a boots-on-the-ground approach.
“With an area of 1,727,000 square kilometres, Queensland is nearly five times the size of Japan and seven times the size of Great Britain. Its diverse landscapes include deserts, wetlands, rainforests, open woodlands and grasslands,” Mrs Owens said.
“80 percent of the total land use in Queensland is classified as grazing land, with 50 percent of that consisting of woody vegetation.
“Yet critical information is missing from our understanding these grazed woodlands.
“Given our state’s massive scale, my research harnesses remote sensing to capture the features and behaviours of those vital landscapes.”
Thanks to satellite imagery and micrometeorological sites called flux towers (which measure the flow of carbon and water between the vegetation, soil and atmosphere), Mrs Owens is completing the picture of models by ground truthing both the new and existing information.
“Experimental data from long-term catchment studies look at runoff, soil moisture, ground cover and evapotranspiration (loss of water to the atmosphere by evaporation from land surfaces and transpiration from plants), which are all useful details to know in order to help close the water budget,” she said.
“For example, changes in the water balance mean changes in the water available for grasses and trees or for recharging ground water aquifers. This impacts how much pasture biomass can be grown, and sustainable and safe stocking rates in grazed woodlands.
“This work improves our understanding of how much water trees use, the competition of water between trees and grasses, and how this impacts on our ecosystems as a whole.
“The project results will be a key tool in helping to deliver improved predictions for existing models such as the operational pasture and drought modelling program and the Paddock to Reef program for the Great Barrier Reef.”
Jo Owens is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Agricultural Engineering, working closely with the Queensland Government on joint projects funded by the Drought and Climate Adaptation Program (DCAP) and the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program.
The next step in her work will include new flux towers in the Burdekin catchment to expand the network of sites in Queensland through partnerships with James Cook University and the TERN Ozflux network to help fill critical gaps in water use and management.