Digital Earth Australia
The Australian Government is investing in a world first analysis platform for satellite imagery and other Earth observations.
From sustainably managing the environment to developing resources and optimising our agricultural potential, Australia must overcome a number of challenges to meet the needs of our growing population.
Digital Earth Australia (DEA) will deliver a unique capability to process, interrogate, and present Earth observation satellite data in response to these issues. It will track changes across Australia in unprecedented detail, identifying soil and coastal erosion, crop growth, water quality, and changes to cities and regions.
DEA will build on the globally recognised innovation, the Australian Geoscience Data Cube1; which was the winner of the 2016 Content Platform of the Year at the Geospatial World Leadership Awards and was developed as a partnership between GA, CSIRO and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) supported National Computational Infrastructure (NCI).
1 Adam Lewis, Simon Oliver, Leo Lymburner, Ben Evans, Lesley Wyborn, Norman Mueller, Gregory Raevksi, Jeremy Hooke, Rob Woodcock, Joshua Sixsmith, Wenjun Wu, Peter Tan, Fuqin Li, Brian Killough, Stuart Minchin, Dale Roberts, Damien Ayers, Biswajit Bala, John Dwyer, Arnold Dekker, Trevor Dhu, Andrew Hicks, Alex Ip, Matt Purss, Clare Richards, Stephen Sagar, Claire Trenham, Peter Wang, Lan-Wei Wang, The Australian Geoscience Data Cube - Foundations and lessons learned, Remote Sensing of Environment.
What is Digital Earth Australia?
Australia’s surface has been continually imaged by satellites for decades, recording a wide range of information about our land and water resources. Historically, this data has been warehoused in unreliable and difficult to access government stores, where its potential is wasted.
DEA translates over 30 years of Earth observation satellite imagery into information and insights about the changing Australian landscape and coastline, providing a ground-breaking approach to organising, analysing, and storing vast quantities of data. It provides access to businesses, researchers, and governments to monitor and track these changes over time.
To fully realise the benefits of DEA once operational, the platform and products will be open and freely available to any user. DEA will provide governments, individuals, and businesses with reliable, standardised, and easily accessible products and services; which will deliver new capabilities to increase efficiency, bolster profit, and create jobs. This will revolutionise land planning, agriculture, mining, environment analysis, and research.
How does DEA work?
DEA is a series of data structures and tools which organise and enable the analysis of large Earth observation satellite data collections.
A key element of DEA is the calibration and standardisation of the data. This increases the value which can be derived from Earth observation and other sources of large datasets, as it allows for the rapid development of information products to enable informed decision making across government and private industry.
In the past, satellite imagery and other geospatial datasets were downloaded, analysed, and provided to users on a custom basis. This took a long time to produce at a high cost, for a single purpose. By calibrating the entire data stream to the same standard in advance and by making the data accessible in a High Performance Data (HPD) structure co-located with a High Performance Computing (HPC) facility, DEA provides an enabling infrastructure for data-intensive science.
DEA then organises this calibrated data into stacks of consistent, time-stamped geographic ‘tiles’ so that they can be rapidly manipulated in an HPC environment. A database is used to track the data in DEA. Although DEA contains some 23 trillion individual observations, the database can be used to track every observation back to the point of collection.
DEA will continually synthesise satellite images collected over the last 30 years (taken every two weeks at 25 metre squared resolution) and future images that will be taken every 5 days at 10 metre squared resolution. It will provide these images freely in a platform that can be accessed by any user, and will deliver a unique capability to process, interrogate and present this data in response to specific issues, for example water quality, land use, and forest cover in Australia.
Like most new and innovative technologies DEA continues to develop at the same time it is in use. Future work will include:
- Making data from more Earth observation satellites available through the DEA;
- Building new products and tools to support Australian Government agencies to better monitor, protect and enhance Australia’s natural resources;
- Developing standard 'services' to support Australia’s spatial industry to develop new applications, and;
- Ongoing contribution of open source code and application development to the Open Data Cube community.
Almost every sector in the Australian economy benefits from the use of spatial information and location technologies. Spatial information from Earth observations from space (EOS) contributes around $5.3 billion annually through various industry programmes, and is projected to generate over 15,000 jobs by 20252. Globally, the forecasted growth of 30% per annum in geoservices provides a great opportunity for Australian companies to increase their businesses on an international scale.
Enabling the Australian spatial industry to exploit the full value of EOS information to enhance their business and be competitive in global markets is a key goal of Digital Earth Australia (DEA). The products created by Australian businesses and researchers using DEA will be transferrable to international markets as they evolve. The underpinning satellite data is global, and the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and South Africa are exploring their own deployments, based on DEA.
Understanding the requirements of Australian businesses for Earth observations, data infrastructure, and information products is integral to the success of DEA and to fully realising the benefits of spatial information. In 2017/18, the DEA programme will be working with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information to develop an Industry Strategy that ensures the DEA will generate value for the spatial industry and the wider Australian economy.
The Australian spatial community is already leading the way in developing a roadmap to transform the spatial sector over the next decade. The 2026 Spatial Industry Transformation and Growth Agenda and the Australian Earth Observation Community Plan 2026 provide a focus to drive accelerated growth that will transform the Australian spatial sector and location-dependent industries over the next decade. Both agenda and plan recognise the importance of DEA as a key part of the infrastructure needed to realise the full benefits of spatial information.
If you or your company would be interested in being consulted during the strategy development, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 ACIL Allen Consulting. (2015). The Value of Earth Observations from Space to Australia.
The volume of Earth observation data continues to grow, offering great potential to improve the understanding of our physical environment. The standardised data infrastructure of DEA removes the need for difficult and time-consuming pre-processing of the data for individual applications. Economic benefits are expected to be realised from better targeted government investment, reduced burden on the recipients of government funding, and increased productivity for businesses and individuals.
DEA will benefit government departments and agencies that need accurate and timely spatial information on the health and productivity of Australia’s landscape. This near real-time information can be readily used as an evidence base for the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies, programmes and regulation, and for developing policy advice.
DEA also enables more effective responses to problems of national significance. Information extracted from Earth observation data will reduce risk from natural hazards such as bushfires and floods, assist in securing food resources, and enable informed decision making across government and in private industry.
DEA will also benefit individuals and businesses who can capitalise quickly on big, open data from which they can innovate to produce new products and services for both domestic and international markets. This in turn will create demand in new and existing industries, increasing profitability and productivity and generating downstream jobs.
The following products are initial examples of how DEA will underpin innovation and capability across government, industry, and the research community. Here is an application that contains some DEA products and a time series plot function that returns pixel values over a selected location and time period.
Water Observations from Space (WOfS)
Water Observations from Space (WOfS) is the world’s first continent-scale map of the presence of surface water.3
WOfS is a web service displaying historical surface water observations derived from the Australia-wide Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellite imagery archive. WOfS provides insight into the behaviour of surface water across Australia through time, from 1987 to today. It highlights where water is normally present in our landscape, where water is seldom observed, and where inundation has occasionally occurred.
WOfS uses imagery that has first been corrected for atmospheric affects, sun and sensor angles, and terrain affects. Each Landsat image is analysed using a standard, automated algorithm to ensure each scene is analysed in the same way. The analysis determines where water is or is not present on each image. Then, for each location, the number of water detections through time is counted and compared to the number of clear observations of that location (i.e. observations not affected by cloud, shadow or other quality issues).
The final WOfS product shows how often water was observed for every point in Australia in a 25 metre by 25 metre grid.
One use of WOfS is for the Australian Flood Risk Information Portal, which gives access to a variety of flood information through a single online location. WOfS helps us to understand where flooding may have occurred in the past, and this knowledge can reduce future flood impacts through improved disaster planning and supporting preparation.
Fractional Cover (FC)
Fractional Cover (FC) is a measurement that splits the landscape into three parts, or fractions; green (leaves, grass, and growing crops), brown (branches, dry grass or hay, and dead leaf litter), and bare ground (soil or rock). DEA uses Fractional Cover to characterise every 25 m square of Australia for any point in time from 1987 to today. This information can inform a broad range of natural resource management issues4.
Fractional Cover can provide insights into areas of dry or dying vegetation and bare soil, as well as allowing the mapping of living vegetation extent. For example, FC can be used to monitor where animals spend time grazing, providing valuable information for land owners to ensure all of their feed is used. By monitoring the proportion of living vegetation and bare ground through time land managers can determine which parts of the property show heavier grazing or are under-utilised. Placing additional water points in the ungrazed areas may help to move livestock into those areas.
Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) provides us with the ability to assess the extent of living green vegetation across the entire Australian continent at any point in time from 1987 to today. NDVI changes can also be tracked through time. Sudden drops in NDVI can be caused by a range of processes including tree clearing, cropping, or severe bushfires. Rises in NDVI can be the result of vegetation responding to increased water availability, such as crop growth or greening of irrigated pasture.
NDVI changes over time can also be used to help to map different types of land cover. More gradual, multi-year trends in NDVI values can be used to identify areas where long term increases (e.g. woody weed infestation) or decreases (e.g. drought stress) in living vegetation are occurring.
Intertidal Extents Model (ITEM)
The Intertidal Extents Model (ITEM) is a unique new map of Australia’s vast intertidal zone, the area between the land and sea that can be observed between the highest and lowest tide.5
ITEM draws on almost 30 years of Earth observation data to map the extent and elevation profile of the intertidal zone, enabling a more realistic representation and a deeper understanding of Australia’s vast coastline.
The knowledge provided by ITEM can contribute to a broad range of applications, including environmental monitoring applications for migratory bird species, habitat mapping in coastal regions, hydrodynamic modelling, and geomorphological studies of features in the intertidal zone.
ITEM is improving digital elevation models of Northern Australia and Queensland. Combining ITEM with other depth and elevation provides a seamless model from the deep oceans through the coastal zone to the land.
Surface Reflectance (SR)
The Surface Reflectance (SR) product is the fundamental starting point for many analyses and provides the underlying data for all other DEA products at this time. Put simply, the Surface Reflectance product turns the images recorded by a satellite into millions of measurements of the Earth’s surface. 6SR is produced through a series of corrections that account for complex variations in the atmosphere, sun position, and view angle at the time each satellite image is captured, and corrects the image accordingly. SR allows for a more accurate comparison of imagery captured at different times, by different sensors, in different seasons, and in different locations. It also indicates where the image has been affected by cloud or cloud shadow, contains missing data, or has been affected in other ways.
These corrections have been applied to all satellite imagery from 1987 to today providing a rich history of Australia’s changing landscape and coasts.
3 N. Mueller, A. Lewis, D. Roberts, S. Ring, R. Melrose, J. Sixsmith, L. Lymburner, A. McIntyre, P. Tan, S. Curnow, A. Ip Water observations from space: Mapping surface water from 25 years of Landsat imagery across Australia, Remote Sensing of Environment 174, 341-352, ISSN 0034-4257.
4 The method used to separate out these parts of the landscape was developed by the Joint Remote Sensing Research Program, a collaborative program that combines research, research training expertise and infrastructure from the University of Queensland's Remote Sensing Research Centre with remote sensing groups supporting the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian governments. Scarth, P., Röder, A., Schmidt, M., 2010. Tracking grazing pressure and climate interaction - the role of Landsat fractional cover in time series analysis. In: Proceedings of the 15th Australasian Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Conference (ARSPC), 13-17 September, Alice Springs, Australia. Alice Springs, NT.
5 Sagar, S., Roberts, D., Bala, B., Lymburner, L., 2017. Extracting the intertidal extent and topography of the Australian coastline from a 28 year time series of Landsat observations. Remote Sensing of Environment 195, 153–169.
6 Fuqin Li, David L.B. Jupp, Medhavy Thankappan, Leo Lymburner, Norman Mueller, Adam Lewis, Alex Held A physics-based atmospheric and BRDF correction for Landsat data over mountainous terrain. Remote Sensing of Environment 124, 756–770.