University of Maryland 250-meter MODIS/NDVI Time Series Database for Australia:

A new video has come up to show the “fractional cover” (or vegetation cover anomaly) in Australia :

The term “fractional cover” refers to the three fractions of a given area that constitute green photosynthetic vegetation (grasses, shrubs and trees), non-photosynthetic vegetation (woody, dry stubble, plus dry litter) and bare ground. This information is derived from satellite data provided by NASA’s “MODIS” sensors, following the approach of Guerschman et al (2015). The “anomaly” map above shows the difference in vegetation cover (the photosynthetic plus non-photosynthetic fractions) for the period in question relative to mean vegetation cover fractions estimated for the average of all years since 2000 at the same time of year. For more information, visit the Auscover website (

Australia offers a large amount of grasslands and pasturelands to study and monitor.

Three pilot sites in different states are proposed to be integrated in RAPP:

  • Spyglass beef research facility, near Charters Towers (Queensland, QLD)
  • Old Man Plains, south of Alice Springs (Northern Territory, NT)
  • Liveringa Station, in the Kimberley district (Western Australia, WA)

Spyglass Beef Research Facility

Team leader: Dr Neil Sims (other team members: Dr. Michael Schaefer)


Project Overview

Northern Australia is a central focus of development attention at the moment, with the aim of facilitating increased agricultural production.

Livestock - SpyglassMuch of Australia’s rangeland agriculture occurs in the north, and this is principally used for cattle grazing. This expansive region also encapsulates some relatively untouched ecosystems that support many endemic species. Routine monitoring at management scales of the levels and condition of land‐cover and standing biomass in this region underpins responsible management and land‐stewardship, as well as providing strategic information to help sustain profitability from year to year for pastoralists and beef producers.

A range of new satellite image datasets from radar and optical sensors have improved the potential to map and monitor a range of vegetation cover parameters including the distribution and dynamics of grassland biomass.

Pastoralists and producers can benefit from this information to help them make relevant stocking and breeding decisions. TERN AusCover provides some of this data to the ecosystem research community, but to date there is no comprehensive approach to use multi‐sensor approaches, combined with in‐situ sampling and modelling of biomass, soil moisture and soil carbon, that provides easy access to such data and easy to‐use information to these particular users in northern Australia.

This project will develop algorithms for mapping grass biomass in Australia’s northern rangelands from radar and optical satellite imagery, and methods to validate these models in the field.

Achieving these objectives will place Australia at the forefront of rangeland and biomass mapping world‐wide, and provide a strong leadership position in the food‐security and global rangeland productivity mapping projects, such as the G20‐initiated GEOGLAM initiative of the Group on Earth Observations, and now GEOGLAM-RAPP on Rangelands and Pastures Productivity.

Collaboration and Stakeholder Involvement

At this stage, the CSIRO team has had direct contributions from the University of Queensland, QLD DISITI, University of New England and the CRC for Spatial Information. These institutions have provided the scientists with field equipment and sampling advice, access to image and spatial datasets and personnel.  T

There is a considerable amount of work in this region being conducted at institutions throughout Australia, and the team hopes to increase their collaborations as the project progresses.

At the recent Australian Rangelands Conference in Alice Springs, Dr Neil Sims and his team met many graziers and rangelands researchers with interests in the success of this work. They will be communicating with many of these stakeholders during the project to discuss the results, and see how they can improve the delivery of grass biomass information to them.

Implementation Plans

Datasets and interfaces to them are improving rapidly, and a range of options for delivery of the data to stakeholders.

These data could be stored in the cloud or on the Data Cube, and delivery to graziers might be through the NRM Spatial Information Hub being developed by the CRCSI, or via the GEOGLAM Web application.

The team will be meeting with graziers and other stakeholders to determine the best way to represent grassland biomass for their use, and also to discuss how to deliver it to them later in the course of this work.

Updates on Spyglass (Charters Towers local news) – 22 May 2015:

“The Spyglass Beef Research Facility north of Charters Towers has taken another major step forward with the completion of new infrastructure worth $7 million. With Spyglass’ ongoing development, facilities now include new offices and staff quarters, residential buildings, broadband connectivity, roads, car parks, sewerage, water and power supply.

The new on-site accommodation will support a facility manager, livestock supervisor, farm hands and technical officers, plus quarters for visiting scientists. Over the next 12 months, state-of-the-art cattle yards will also be completed along with extensive water infrastructure to ease pressure during droughts.

These developments significantly boost the research capacity of this site, which is already playing a leading role in cattle husbandry, genetics, pasture improvement, soil mapping and remote sensing.”

Site Description

The team will aim at providing grassland biomass maps right across the rangelands of northern Australia, but for now, they are testing methods and developing models in three main test sites:  the Spyglass beef research facility near Charters Towers in Qld, Old Man Plains south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and Liveringa Station in the Kimberley district of Western Australia.

Liveringa: Liveringa station is approximately 265,000 hectares in size or 2,650 square kilometres (larger than the Australian Capital Territory – ACT). It is a large cattle holding with 14,000 breeding cows and 22,000 total head. Liveringa is a diverse Station with a cross breeding program which enables access a number of different cattle markets. Liveringa also has three centre pivot irrigators where fodder for livestock is grown and they are also experimenting with tropical grain crops.

In Situ Observations

A team of 5 CSIRO researchers visited the Spyglass site in May 2015. This short trip was an excellent opportunity to investigate the research station, and to test a few of the field methods we intend to use at other sites, though the drought conditions that have prevailed for the last four years meant that the grass biomass and range of biomass levels was probably less than ideal for model development.

Team working on field – Spyglass – May 2015


Credits Michael Schaefer – Neil Sims

The data which has been collected included soil and plant moisture, grass height and biomass and tree cover and stem diameter. The team collected terrestrial laser scans of each site using the Compact Biomass Lidar and spectra from the soil and plant cover. The spectrometer and CBL were kindly lent to us by Peter Scarth and Stuart Phinn at the University of Queensland.

Agency Databases

Liveringa: WA Landgate – Pastures From Space could possibly be used. TBD

EO Data Requirements

This project is in part a test of a range of new satellite image datasets that have become recently available. Among these are a range of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) datasets including :

  • Sentinel 1 C-band,
  • Terrasar X-band, and
  • ALOS Palsar 2 L-band.

The different wavelength bands and polarisation possibilities of these datasets are sensitive to different components and configurations of vegetation cover, and the project will help to develop methods for processing and interpreting these datasets for rangeland grassland applications.

A range of optical datasets will also be used, including Sentinel 2 and Worldview 3, which was collected over Spyglass during the recent field trip.


Spyglass: The location of the facility in the Charters Towers district is typical of the extensive breeding systems in North Queensland.  The research facility covers 38,221 hectares (94,446 acres), has 13 kilometres of Burdekin River frontage and will comfortably run up to 4000 adult cattle.

Liveringa: situated 120kms southeast of Derby, with the Fitzroy River forming more than 100km of its southern boundary. (17o57’23.97”S 124o23’21.89”E)

Map pilot sites Australia

Project Reports

Once data are collected, a final report will be compiled by CSIRO.