Getting down and dirty with digital maps

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By Mikayla Keen and Claire Harris

Have you ever stopped to think about what’s under your feet, under our roads and under the wheat crops that produced the flour in your bread?

Soil features in every continent on the globe; it’s one of the fundamental building blocks of life. It’s pretty important stuff but we don’t often think about it.

But now, we’ve led a team of world experts digging deep, uncovering the secrets of soil and they’ve created the most comprehensive nation-wide digital map of Australia’s soils and landscapes. We give you the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia.

Using 3-dimensional spatial modelling, and combining rich historical data with new digital information gathered through technology like satellites and sensors in the laboratory, Australia’s best soil and landscape scientists have created new information and a very powerful tool.

The Grid itself is a marvel, representing the whole country as approximately 2 billion data pixels. That means each pixel is the snapshot of an area roughly the size of a football field (90 x 90 metres).  Every one of them contains information about the properties of the soil like pH, organic carbon and water capacity, down to a depth of 2 metres, and estimates of uncertainty (we couldn’t go out and sample the entire continent!). The Grid also contains details about the landscape, such as solar radiation and slope.

Red clay country in 3D

Red clay country in 3D

Not excited about the wonders of dirt? Then what about the science? The Grid uses exciting new infrared spectral methods to derive soil information rapidly and cheaply. It uses advanced spatial modelling that combines earth observation and satellite data to characterise and map the soil across the country.  And the technology? The Grid uses powerful computing clusters for computation for the modelling and to produce the maps. It uses smart computing to access the databases from state and territory departments, the University of Sydney and Geoscience Australia. During early user testing one person said, ‘Wow! I can get data in six minutes now instead of six months’. Before the Grid came along he would have had to gather the information from each of the different data systems. It wasn’t quite going door to door, but you get the picture.

Still not excited? How about some nifty data visualisation? The data can be viewed in a few different ways, for example, downloading it into Google Earth.

The Darling Downs as seen in the Grid

The Darling Downs as seen in the Grid

The best thing of all is that it’s freely available to everybody online.

For those keen beans like farmers, land managers, urban and regional planners and environmental scientists, who want to dig into the data, the files can be accessed through the Grid website in sections or the complete set is available through CSIRO’s Data Access Portal.

The data in the Grid can be sucked into a wide range of other databases and computer modelling programs and is useful to loads of different research projects. It is also part of Australia’s contribution to the GlobalSoilMap project.

For those who don’t want to get bogged down in the detail, check out our animation, which takes you on the journey of the Grid.

It’s been big collaborative effort with a large team  bringing together the best minds for the job. The Grid is ready and waiting for new data, some of which will no doubt come from technology that hasn’t even been invented yet (kangaroos with laser scanners on their heads anyone? Or is that TOO weird?)

For now, though, why not marvel at the beauty of the soil and landscape through the digital eyes of the Grid.


The thorny issue threatening the coral reefs of Pilbara

By Eamonn Bermingham 

The Great Barrier Reef is a global icon and something of a heavyweight in the natural world. If it was a movie it would be a Spielberg-directed Hollywood blockbuster starring Hugh Jackman and Angelina Jolie. Its cousin, Ningaloo Reef, off Australia’s western coast, is something of a poor relation in a branding sense, but still holds a relative degree of fame. It would be more your ‘straight-to-video’ sort of flick.

Take a trip further up the WA coast to the Pilbara region and you’ll encounter a series of islands and coral reefs – all 1,100 of them – that don’t have the branding power of the big-boy reefs. They don’t have a collective name, and probably won’t ever have a movie made about them. However, what they lack in Hollywood notoriety, they make up for in breathtaking beauty.

A school of Fusilier (Caesio cunning) fish swimming off Barrow Island in the Pilbara

A school of Fusilier (Caesio cunning) fish swimming off Barrow Island in the Pilbara.

To find out more about this area, we’ve been working with marine biologists from The University of Western Australia to conduct a health-check of the World Heritage-listed site, as part of the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership (PCMP).

Unfortunately, on a recent trip to the region our research team found an outbreak of the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS)- one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reef. The spiky sea stars voraciously feed on the reef, causing a reduction in coral cover that forms the very building blocks of life in the ecosystem.

The outbreak comes at a particularly bad time for the Pilbara as it is already on the ropes following a series of severe bleaching events that have reduced the amount of live coral to an average of just over five per cent.

Reefs could probably cope with one of these things at a time, but when two such impacts occur, the combination of stressors can lead to long term declines in coral cover and coral reef health.

A COTS pictured at Black Rock Reef (Montebello Island)

A COTS pictured at Black Rock Reef, Montebello Island.

How bad is it?

Technically, the term ‘outbreak’ is used to describe densities of greater than ten animals per hectare. Our team observed densities of up to 220 per hectare around Barrow Island and the Montebello Islands. To give it some context, peak figures of up to 1000 per hectare have been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef. Although numbers at the Pilbara are much lower, they are easily high enough to consume coral faster than it can grow.

COTS are also prolific breeders with females producing up to 100 million eggs, so the problem could worsen quite easily. Here’s some video we captured on our recent trip:

What’s the cause and how can we fix it?

COTS and corals have co-evolved over millions of years and although outbreaks of COTS are nothing new, the frequency and intensity in many parts of the world are greater than they were in the past. Increased nutrients can promote outbreaks and there is also data to suggest that removing predators through overfishing can exacerbate the problem. An overall increase in water temperature can also play a role.

Identifying the extent of the problem is, as always, the first step. Fixing it is an altogether trickier business.

Manual removal and, in particular, poisoning have been successful at sites including sections of the Great Barrier Reef, while studies have also shown that outbreaks are less frequent in green zones protected from fishing.  Natural predators such as the triton gastropod and the puffer fish could also, in theory, reduce COTs numbers, however it’s not the most practical short-term solution.

Further research through projects like the PMCP can improve our understanding of outbreaks and the effectiveness of different management strategies.

The starfish outbreaks and current status of reefs in Pilbara will be one of the topics under discussion when the PMCP hosts around 90 people from government and industry at a symposium in Perth this week to showcase what’s happening with the project.

Find out more about the partnership here.

Media inquiries: Eamonn.Bermingham<at>csiro.au;  +61 8 6436 8627


Sensing your diagnosis on the spot

On the spot blood analysis provides immediate results to doctors and patients.

On the spot blood analysis provides immediate results to doctors and patients.

By Emily Lehmann

“We’ve got your test results back and…” *Gulp*

Does that feeling sound familiar? Having any kind of medical test can be nerve-wracking – not just because of the necessary probing – but for the fear of a potential diagnosis while you wait for the results.

Thanks to developments in point-of-care testing, the waiting game is over for certain crucial blood tests which can be performed and analysed on the spot using sensitive ‘biosensor’ devices. These are the types of instruments that doctors or diabetics use to measure blood sugar levels.

Test results can be provided immediately so that you can avoid the potentially unnecessary stress that often comes with waiting. There’s the opportunity to get onto treatment and the path back to better health faster – and it’s also much more efficient for healthcare providers.

We’ve been working with Universal Biosensors, a small-to-medium sized (SME) manufacturer who makes these devices locally, to help them improve their products and test for a broader range of diseases.

The project started through the Researchers in Business program, which brought on board our materials expert Dr Helmut Thissen. Helmut has since been working alongside the company to develop a new coating material that will make the biosensor test strips more sensitive.

This will allow the devices to be used for a range of new tests (immunoassays) not currently available in point-of-care testing and could lead to time and cost savings for already-stretched healthcare providers.

This exciting R&D project will enable Universal Biosensors to grow and export more high-end products internationally, while improving healthcare for patients around the globe.

Check out this video to learn more about the work we’re doing with this growing manufacturer:

Universal Biosensors was connected to our researchers through our SME Engagement Centre, which helps Aussie SMEs find the right science to overcome technical challenges and grow their business.

We’re continuing to work with the company to create superior products ready for the market, supported by Victorian State Government’s Technology Voucher Program.


To map and protect: how our 3D Zebedee technology is helping re-build New Zealand

By Emily Lehmann 

Situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, our Kiwi neighbours in New Zealand (NZ) are rattled by up to 20,000 earthquakes a year.

While most of these are minor, some can be catastrophic – like the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that shook Christchurch in 2011. This earthquake devastatingly claimed 185 lives and the country’s second largest city continues to rebuild from it three years on.

Unfortunately, there’s likelihood of another large magnitude quake – which fall above six on the Richter scale – rocking the country one day again in future.

To prepare for this, NZ has very stringent building regulations; and the 25,000 earthquake prone buildings that the country is estimated to have are the focus of maintenance and restoration efforts to ensure their stability.

In an effort to earthquake proof at-risk buildings, NZ-based building restoration company Solutions By Zeal is using our 3D laser mapping technology to survey buildings to highlight structural areas in need of strengthening or restoration.

Our technology is helping protect buildings in New Zealand from earthquake damage .

Our technology is helping protect buildings in New Zealand from earthquake damage.

ZEB1 – the commercial product of our Zebedee technology – is a handheld technology that allows users to create 3D maps of a desired location by simply walking through it.

The company found that by using ZEB1 to create accurate floor plans, elevations and wall widths, that they can save a massive 50 to 80 per cent on their measurement costs.

They have also found the technology particularly useful for measuring old buildings where there are no architectural plans.

Earthquake-strengthening and restoration work is just one of the many applications that the technology is being used for – from security and forestry, to mapping manufacturing production lines.

Zebedee has mapped some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as well as national treasures like the Jenolan Caves near the Blue Mountains and Fort Lytton in Brisbane.

ZEB1 is licensed to GeoSLAM, a spinout company of 3D Laser Mapping and CSIRO. Read more about our 3D mapping technology.


Five tips for enjoying the festive season without gaining weight

The average Aussie risks gaining several kilos over the holiday period. That might sound like a small number, but few of us lose it when the festive season is over. We asked Professor Manny Noakes, research director of our Food and Nutrition Flagship and co-author of the famous Total Wellbeing Diet, for five tips on how to survive the silly season without gaining extra baggage.

'Tis the season of indulgence.

‘Tis the season of indulgence.

1. Don’t just count kilojoules

Restricting your kilojoule intake is a surefire way to lose weight, but cutting back indiscriminately can lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy diet. Noakes recommends a focus on food groups rather than kilojoules counting. Ensuring you include food from each of the essential food groups each day, is a better way to get healthy.

“It is a much easier approach because you get optimal nutrients without having to learn the kilojoules of hundreds of different foods,” Noakes says. The essential food groups include protein foods such as meat, fish, chicken and eggs; dairy foods; low GI grains and cereals; fruits and vegetables, and healthy oils such as spreads and nuts.

2. Limit indulgences

Thirty-five per cent of the average Australian’s diet comes from “discretionary” foods with little nutritional value, such as alcohol, chips, lollies and cakes. That adds up to a whopping 2500-3500 kilojoules a day. “If you want to lose weight, limiting indulgences can have a dramatic impact over a period of time,” says Noakes. Try limiting yourself to one small indulgence per day (see blow), or seven in a week, to give yourself a small reward for eating well.

lollies

1 small indulgence equals:

  • 100ml Wine
  • 4 squares of chocolate
  • 1 fun size packet of potato chips
  • 1 scoop of ice cream
  • 1 chocolate biscuit

3. Stand every hour

It’s important to increase your everyday activity to help prevent weight gain and a good place to start is limiting the amount of time you sit per day.

Noakes recommends looking for opportunities to get off the couch or office chair and move wherever possible. For example taking the stairs, having short stand-up meetings at work, standing up when you take a phone call, or standing at parties rather than sitting. “Simply making an effort to spend less time sitting down and stand every hour can improve your health,” says Noakes.

4. Manage your appetite

During the festive season it’s hard to say no to holiday nibbles and cocktails or that extra snag at the weekend BBQ. Proactively managing your appetite with a higher protein, low GI diet can help prevent poor choices. “Protein controls appetite and low GI carbohydrates sustain energy, so having a light meal of 100g of lean protein food with a slice of grainy bread one hour before a party can help keep hunger in check,” says Noakes.

5. Sign up for a formal healthy eating plan

There is evidence showing that people who seek support in their weight loss efforts do better than those who go it alone. “We know that people who take part in weight loss programs find it easier to reach their goals,” says Noakes. “The support that people receive and the regular weight checks contribute to some of that success. The type of eating plan can also make a difference and a higher protein low GI plan has the best evidence for sustained weight loss success.

“The type of eating plan can also make a difference and a higher protein low GI plan has the best evidence for sustained weight loss success. That’s why we are releasing this new version of the Total Wellbeing Diet available as an online program in a new trial.”

Registrations for the online trial of our Total Wellbeing Diet are open until 10 November 2014. The cost for the 12-week program is $99 which is fully refundable if you complete the trial.

This article was originally published on Body & Soul


Putting over-crowded emergency rooms to bed

By Emily Lehmann 

Ever waited for a long time in a hospital emergency department and thought, there must be a better way?

It’s a common problem in the hospitals of Australia. While our nurses, doctors and medical staff are undeniable miracle workers, even they can only do so much. If there’s a sudden rush of sprained ankles, broken jaws and bruised elbows at your local hospital or medical centre needing urgent attention, then bed management can become crucial.

To help figure out how to manage this, we’ve come up with a handy tool to crunch the numbers and found that hospital demand is actually pretty predictable – particularly around major annual events (think Schoolies Week).

Austin Hospital, Melbourne.

Austin Hospital, Melbourne.

Today, the Victorian Government has announced that it will fund CSIRO to work with HealthIQ and Melbourne’s Austin Hospital for the first Victorian trial of our Demand Prediction Analysis Tool.

This tool is an adaptation of technology which is already being used by more than 30 Queensland hospitals to predict bed demand by the hour, day and week, helping to ease pressure on their emergency wards.

Using historical data to forecast bed demand, the tool has been shown to have a 90 per cent accuracy rate. It can predict how many patients will come through the doors, how serious cases will be and how many will likely be admitted to the hospital or discharged.

The tool anticipates the number of different injuries or illnesses likely to occur on any given day, so that hospitals can plan the staff, medical supplies and beds needed to care for patients.

The aim is to help hospitals manage waiting times so that patients arriving in emergency departments are seen and admitted or discharged within only a few hours.

The technology has the potential to save the Victorian public health sector around $9 million a year.

If the rest of the country was to adopt prediction tools like this, a huge $23 million in annual savings could be made across Australia.

The $230,000 trial is the first to be announced through the Victorian Government Technology Innovation Fund and will be completed by mid-2015.

Read more about our work to reduce hospital waiting times using new digital technologies.


Make our ASKAP telescope a star of the night sky

By Emily Lehmann

There’s a new star in the making in the world of astronomy, with our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) named as a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge’s Manufacturing, Construction and Infrastructure category*.

We recently shared some of the first images produced  by the amazing ASKAP telescope. It comprises a cluster of 36 radio dishes that work in conjunction with a powerful supercomputer to form what is, in effect, a single composite radio telescope a massive six kilometres across.

This allows it to survey the night sky very quickly, taking panoramic snapshots over 100 times the size of the full moon (as viewed from Earth, of course!).

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

The world-leading facility is revolutionising astronomy, and this award nomination is a welcome recognition. You can vote for it here – just scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Now, for all you space cadets, here’s five astronomical facts about why ASKAP is out of this world and a sure-fire winner:

  1. ASKAP’s 36 radio dishes, each 12 metres in diameter, give it the capacity to scan the whole sky and make it sensitive to whisper-quiet signals from the Milky Way.
  2. ASKAP is an outstanding telescope in its own right, as well as a technology demonstrator for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This pioneering technology will make ASKAP the fastest radio telescope in the world for surveying the sky.
  3. Once built, the SKA will comprise of a vast army of radio receivers distributed over tens to hundreds of kilometres in remote areas of Western Australia and Africa.
  4. The SKA will generate five million million bytes of information in its first day. That’s almost as many grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches.
  5. ASKAP is located in the remote Murchison Shire of Western Australia, which was chosen because there is hardly any human activity and so little background radio noise.

ASKAP is one of four CSIRO projects already in the running for different categories in the Oz’s Innovation Challenge (we’ve also written about swarm sensing and Direct Nickel). You can #voteCSIRO for any and all of them – just follow the links from the Challenge’s home page!


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