What On Earth Colloquium




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Hon Eugenie Sage

Eugenie Sage is the Minister for Conservation, Minister for Land Information New Zealand and Associate Minister for the Environment.

She has been a Green MP since 2011. Before that she was an elected Environment Canterbury regional councillor. For much of her adult life she has worked to better protect Aotearoa/New Zealand’s natural landscapes and seascapes, and the indigenous plants and wildlife that call them home, including 13 years with the conservation organisation, Forest and Bird


Dr Andrew Cleland

Dr Andrew Cleland is Chief Executive of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. He was Chief Executive of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) from 2000 to 2014. In that role he oversaw the registration of Chartered Professional Engineers and had responsibility for the public policy programme in which IPENZ acts for the public good. Prior to joining IPENZ Andrew had a 23 year career as an academic staff member at Massey University in which he was heavily involved in commercialisation of research and led research programmes in food engineering with particular emphasis on refrigeration of food. A primary focus of that research had been on development of mathematical models that predicted important physical and quality-related parameters (e.g. time/temperature profiles, moisture loss, energy consumption) during exposure of foods to varying environmental conditions during preservation, storage and transport operations. This research was recognised through the award of two international research awards.




Cloud Computing and Continuous Monitoring of Resource using high
Cadence Satellite Data

To effectively manage resources, decision makers require timely information at an appropriate scale. In the recent years there has been a marked increase and uptake of remote sensing technologies – drones, LiDAR and satellite imagery. In a sense, they all have a place provided they are cost-effective, provide consistent results, and add value. Not to go unnoticed is the increased availability of Earth Observation (EO) data and advances in technologies that allow cost-effective, repeat assessment of forest resources. The two main catalysts have been the launch of more satellites and the development of cloud-based processing engines, enabling the development of near real-time monitoring applications.


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Dr Pete Watt - Head of Resource Monitoring, Indufor

Pete leads a specialist resource monitoring team at Indufor, with overall responsibility for business strategy, growth and development. His expertise includes operational use of satellite imagery, with a focus on monitoring land use and change at local and national scales. Pete is actively involved in projects that use satellite imagery to monitor the environment, forest productivity, harvesting and tropical deforestation activities. Since 2013, he has been retained as a technical advisor to the Norwegian Space Centre to assist with the development of forest change methods and evaluating emerging satellite systems. This work is coordinated across several agencies including the Norwegian agencies (MFA and NICFI), FAO, USGS and the University of Maryland. He received his PhD and MSc (Distinction) in forest monitoring from Durham University, England (2005), and his BForSc from Canterbury University, New Zealand (1993).


Combining remote and proximal sensing for lowering barriers in the adoption of precision agriculture

by Armin Werner (1), Dinanjana Ekanayake (1), Allister Holmes (2)
(1) Lincoln Agritech Ltd.; PO Box 69133, Lincoln, Canterbury 7640, New Zealand; (2) Foundation for Arable Research; Templeton, New Zealand

Digital agriculture, or ‘Precision Agriculture’ (PA), provides various technologies to improve decision making in the land-based primary production processes. When agricultural production regions start introducing such PA-technologies, the adoption rates are typically low for a long time before they increase. Besides lack of regional evidence of benefits from PA, a critical initial barrier is insufficient data about variability, where and to what extent do growth-potentials vary over a paddock.

A prominent example of PA is applying the amount of inputs like seeds, fertiliser, or water for crops according the spatially variable requirements from growth of arable, pastoral, horticulture/viticulture crops across a paddock. Zoning the paddocks according yield performance (based on ‘yield maps’) is a traditional approach, but requires historical yield data. These are mostly not available when farmers intend to start with PA. Remote sensing data from aerial platforms or satellites (e.g. archived images in geo-databases) in combination with proximal data (e.g. maps of soil properties) can provide valuable information for preliminary zoning of variable paddocks.

The presentation will show examples how publically available data from remote sensing, together with proximal data of the paddock can be used to create initial zones that correspond well with harvested yields. We will discuss current options and future R&D-need to provide such initial solutions to lower barriers in PA-adoption.


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Dr Armin Werner

Since 2013 Armin is managing the Precision Agriculture Science group at Lincoln Agritech (LAL), a subsidiary of Lincoln University in New Zealand. With his team, supported by the other scientists and engineers at LAL he is researching and developing digital technologies for primary industries (‘Precision Agriculture’, PA).

Armin initially developed his key research activities at the University of Bonn, Germany in the area of agronomy, mainly on decision support systems for crop production. He studied processes and drivers in yield physiology, crop growth modeling and arable cropping systems. From 1992 until 2012 Armin was head of the Institute of Land Use Systems at the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) in Germany. There he worked on optimising cropping systems for changing economic and ecologic frame conditions, targeting innovations for sustainable development in agricultural land use.

Armin has worked in research on Precision Agriculture for almost three decades. He headed several collaborative R&D-projects for PA in Germany and the EU. His training as a researcher on crop production and agronomy as well as his involvement in sustainability research at the landscape level allows him to conduct interdisciplinary land use research. Armin is keen to support the development of new technologies in land use for New Zealand and international markets. These should provide farmers with highly productive and environmentally friendly agricultural production systems.

Amongst the interdisciplinary projects, Armin and his team just finished an MBIE-program on developing sensor-based decision support systems for improving nitrogen management of intensively grazed dairy pastures (OPTIMUM-N). In an MBIE-Program on Precision Grape Yield Assessment, the team develops optical and microwave sensing technologies for assessing and managing the variability of grape vine crops. Armin is contract-PI of a Robotic Spearhead project of the National Science Challenge 10 (Science for Technological Innovations). This project paves the scientific grounds for small, highly adaptable and flexible robots as well as robots in hazardous and changing environments.

Armin is teaching a Precision Agriculture course at Lincoln University and was appointed Adjunct Professor at that University.

In Oct. 2017 Armin chaired PA17, the International Tri-Conference on Precision Agriulture in Hamilton, New Zealand, hosted by the Precision Agriculture Association New Zealand for more than 500 delegates.


SPACE™ – Pasture measurement via satellites

LIC and FarmShots (USA) have co-developed an algorithm that converts satellite imagery of New Zealand farms into paddock-specific dry matter readings. Traditionally, farmers measure pasture by walking the farm, which is time-consuming and laborious. It is recommended that to optimally manage pasture, farmers need to measure the availability in each paddock every 7-10 days.

Advancements in satellite technology have seen increased frequency of satellite passes over New Zealand. Now satellites are taking images on a daily basis which increases the probability of getting a cloud-free image to farmers at least every 7-10 days. LIC has just commenced a commercial release in Canterbury, and are also working to validate the algorithm for other regions, as well as potentially developing algorithms for other supplementary feed crops. This technology provides farmers with a convenient alternative to farm walks as well as providing a consistent method of measure.


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Simon Parry - Business Advisor - Emerging Markets & Innovation, LIC

Simon’s role is to identify, evaluate, scope, model and implement new and profitable business ventures for LIC. The identification and development of commercial opportunities can come from either inside LIC itself or from other companies and start-ups. Simon is LIC’s representative for the Enterprise Angels early-stage investment network.

Prior to joining LIC, Simon worked as a Business Development Manager at AgResearch for 5 years focussed on the dairy sector. He also worked in the UK for 10 years as a medical research scientist and an investment banker.


Current research and applications of Satellite based observation
in Forestry

Scion has been working with Satellite imagery for forests since the 1970’s. This talk will provide information on how high resolution imagery is currently used in forestry for management and research.


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Bryan Graham - Science Leader for Forest Industry Informatics, SCION 

Bryan Graham is the Science Leader for Forest Informatics at Scion, where he leads a team focused on how Scion and the forest industry respond to the opportunities, and challenges, created by digital technology.

In his role, Bryan has negotiated the sale of Scion’s commercial software division, established a world leading UAV programme, and built an informatics team focused on Remote sensing, Bio-Informatics, Computer Science, and Data Science. He recently commissioned NZ’s largest capacity Bio-Informatics server and a new platform for large scale geospatial data processing.

Bryan is an advisor to Plant & Food Research’s information steering committee, which focuses on digital challenges for horticulture, is a member of the executive committee of the Bay of Plenty Institute of Directors, and a director of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic netball board.


A bird’s eye view of New Zealand’s forest carbon uptake: using atmospheric data and high resolution models to estimate CO2 exchange with our land biosphere

Carbon dioxide uptake by New Zealand’s forests and other land regions offset nearly 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Climate Treaty, and forest carbon credits are likely to play a crucial role in meeting our obligations under the Paris agreement. Yet, it is difficult to accurately quantify the amount of carbon absorbed by forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems. Observations of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases are now available from satellites, and these new datasets provide a potentially powerful tool to validate national greenhouse gas inventories.

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher will present results from a prototype study based on atmospheric data, which suggests that New Zealand’s land biosphere absorbs more carbon than previously thought. This work is primarily underpinned by measurements at the surface, but the available remote sensing data products and how they might be used to improve New Zealand’s carbon budget in the future will also be discussed.


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Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher - Atmosphere-Ocean Scientist, NIWA

Dr. Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher is a carbon cycle scientist at NIWA. Her work focuses on using atmospheric and oceanic data and models to understand greenhouse gas emissions and natural carbon sinks, which slow climate change.

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher earned her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and held positions at the University of California, Los Angeles and Princeton University before joining NIWA. In addition to her role at NIWA, she serves as Editor of the peer review journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.


Satellite Earth observations to optimise sustainable crop production in New Zealand

Biological systems are inherently variable. Differences in soil characteristics and micro-climates in crop paddocks can lead to differences in crop growth, resulting in variation in plant growth characteristics, incidence of pests, diseases and weeds, and ultimately difference in crop yield and quality. Farmers can measure the variation in soil characteristics using geospatial soil surveys, and crop yields using harvest yield monitors that measure geospatial yield. This information can then be used to generate Management Zones (MZ) that allow us to practice Site-Specific Crop Management by applying variable rate applications of seed, lime, fertiliser, irrigation, plant growth regulators and pesticides to optimise crop profitability in each MZ. However, this system is based on the use of historical data, rather than real time information, and doesn’t account for variation in the current season’s crop. The use of sensors during the crop growth season allows the in-season tailoring of the applications of crop inputs to the crops actual requirements, and can therefore influence the growth of the crop. This approach also minimises the waste of crop inputs, and the detrimental environmental effects of applying excessive crop inputs such as nitrogen and water. Real time crop data can be obtained from machinery mounted sensors, UAV’s, or from satellite imagery.  Machinery mounted sensors require a pass over the crop to be undertaken, and UAV flights, over large areas of crops, requires specialist equipment, is time consuming and require discipline to undertake at regular intervals. 

FAR is currently investigating the use of satellite Earth observations to provide crop data to enable real-time decisions to be made in growing crops.  Any delivery of satellite data needs to be seamless and in a format that can easily mesh with existing farm management and mapping software systems, and be useable in environments with slow internet connection speeds. 


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Allister Holmes - Research & Extension Team Leader, Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) 

Allister Holmes, Research and Extension Team Leader, joined FAR in 2014 and is based at the FAR Ruakura office in the Waikato. Allister has a background in maize, cropping and horticulture research and agronomy. Allister manages the FAR precision Agriculture programme and is currently managing a four-year Sustainable Farming Fund Project titles “Transforming Variability to Profitability”.

Allister uses geospatial data obtained from soil tests, harvester yield monitors, as well as aerial images from both UAV platforms and satellites. Many growers have embraced some aspects of precision agriculture (auto-steer and section control), but few are using data driven technologies to undertake Site Specific Crop Management. This SFF project aims to develop simple ways to integrate geospatial soil, plant and crop harvest characteristics to analyse profitability, and aid in decision making processes to improve profitability in future years. This will reduce the amount of wasted inputs entering the environment, as well as maximising profit.

Allister is passionate about helping growers add value to their operations. “This can be achieved by increasing the value of their products and their yields, but also by reducing costs of inputs, and increasing the efficiency of applications of inputs. It is essential that research undertaken in the rural sector is relevant to growers... I often ask of research ‘so what?’ to ensure the work will provide findings of value to growers. If there is not a good answer to ‘so what?’ the question has to be asked why it is being undertaken.” 

Allister holds a Bachelor of Horticulture and a postgraduate Diploma of Agricultural Science from Massey University where his dissertation was completed on germination enzyme activity in barley. Allister began his cropping career with Corson Grain in Gisborne, working in maize and sweet corn research and production. He also worked as an agronomist for Heinz-Watties and Cedenco Foods in Gisborne, planning and implementing crop supply programmes with pea and sweet corn crops, and for PlusGroup in Tauranga, leading their research programme.


Application of extended multispectral satellite data for orogenic and geothermal mineral mapping in New Zealand

By Salman Ashraf (1), Patricia Durance (1), Andrew Rae (2), Gabor Kereszturi (3)
1. GNS Science, 1 Fairway Drive, Avalon, Lower Hutt, New Zealand  2. GNS Science, 114 Karetoto Road, Wairakei, New Zealand   3. Massey University, Palmerstone North, New Zealand

Multispectral satellite data and its interpretation has the potential to provide an efficient, environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and inexpensive method to map, study, and explore New Zealand’s mineral and geothermal resources at a reconnaissance scale. In particular, the method can potentially help reduce the area of interest for follow-up exploration by ground-based methods. A pilot study was conducted at locations of known orogenic gold mineralisation and geothermal activity using WV-3 (Visible, NIR and SWIR) imagery over 100 km2 for two sites: Macraes Flat and Rotorua-Tikitere geothermal field.

The use of remotely sensed satellite images to study surface geology for exploration or mineral mapping of geothermal areas is not new and had been done previously with sensors such as Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) at 30m spatial resolution. In a New Zealand context where the vegetation cover is a significant impediment to these predecessor satellite detectors, the application of satellite technology for mineral mapping had been limited. The availability of extended multispectral data from the WorldView3 (WV-3) satellite at higher spatial resolution; however, has made it possible to apply remote sensing for mineral mapping in areas with high vegetative cover.

The study has focussed on producing 12 mineral maps related to orogenic gold deposit formation at Macraes Flat in the Otago schist area. Likewise, a mineral map of the Whakarewarewa-Arikikapakapa geothermal area in Rotorua is produced showing the occurrences of silica sinter and kaolinite at the larger areas. In addition to this, The Spectral Geologist (TSG) software was used to examine the reflectance data from the WV-3 satellite imagery and the hyperspectral field validation measurements. There is a general agreement between these two data sets. This highlights a strong potential to develop a new tool around mineral identification for orogenic gold exploration in Otago and geothermal fluid characterisation around Rotorua.


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Dr Salman Ashraf - Remote Sensing Scientist, GNS Science

Dr. Salman Ashraf has been associated with GNS Science since early 2012. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Waikato in 2011 where he researched on image fusion methods to aide spectral classification for submerged aquatic vegetation.

He has taught Remote Sensing at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in 2011. After completing his M.Sc. (Space Science) from the University of the Punjab, Pakistan in 1995, he worked with reputable international institutes as a GIS/RS Analyst at International Water Management Institute (IWMI) - Sri Lanka, Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA)-UAE and as GIS Lab Manager at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - Pakistan. 




Observing long-term change in New Zealand’s coasts and oceans:
satellite observation of water quality and productivity

by Matt Pinkerton, Simon Wood and Mark Gall, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd (NIWA), Wellington

Dr Matt Pinkerton will report on research applying ocean colour and sea-surface temperature satellite observations to monitor variability and long-term change in New Zealand waters over the last two decades. Satellite observations from MODIS-Aqua, SeaWiFS and AVHRR sensors were blended to produce a 20-year time series of the concentration of Chlorophyll-a, oceanic primary production and vertical particulate flux in New Zealand’s offshore waters. These measurements have been used to contextualize changes to marine food-webs, fisheries, seabirds and marine mammals.

Recent advances in processing methods mean that satellite observations are increasingly being used in New Zealand for coastal applications. This talk will report on the development of a range of moderate-resolution satellite products for New Zealand’s coastal zone which have been used to monitor water quality, detect coastal change and develop spatially-resolved approaches to manage human impacts on coastal ecosystems. In one application, a novel method was developed to detect the depletion of phytoplankton by cultured bivalves in a large mariculture farm. We anticipate the opportunities for using higher resolution satellite data in the New Zealand coastal zone and inland waters. This tal will also highlight approaches for bio-optical sampling to validate and locally-tune satellite observations of water quality around New Zealand.


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Dr Matt Pinkerton - Principal Scientist - Marine Ecology, NIWA

Dr Matt Pinkerton is a Principal Scientist at NIWA with 20+ years’ experience in ocean remote sensing. He leads the NIWA core project on ocean remote sensing and has led work delivering satellite information for regional councils, central government and industry.

He is also a member of the New Zealand advisory group on marine and coastal indicators and ex-associate editor for bio-optics in Continental Shelf Research.


How Earth observation imaging platforms can improve
maritime domain awareness systems

Paul Kennedy will be speaking about maritime domain awareness systems for all types of Earth Observation imaging platforms to improve the decision making and operational performance of business, government, and defence organizations worldwide. Paul will provide practical examples where this technology has been applied at great effect, with a primary focus on what the Canadian Space Agency have achieved with Polar Epsilon 1 (with RadarSat-2) in maritime domain awareness across 11-million square kilometres of marine environment, and what the future looks like with Polar Epsilon 2 (with RCM).


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Paul Kennedy - Vice President, Ground Systems, MDA Corporation

Paul Kennedy has over 25 years of experience in earth observation, geographic information systems, and marine science.

Paul’s group provides advanced ground system solutions, including near-real time maritime domain awareness systems, for all types of Earth Observation imaging platforms.


25 years of getting value from satellite observations

NIWA has been receiving, processing and archiving direct broadcast data from Polar Orbiting satellites for over 25 years, initially from satellites transmitting in the L-Band, and since 2007 from those that transmit in the X-Band. These data have been used extensively for research purposes (e.g. to develop climatologies of Sea Surface Temperature, Chlorophyll-a, cloud type, cloud cover, albedo etc.) and is a critical input to advanced numerical weather prediction models as implemented at NIWA and for the generation of products used directly by end users (e.g. to target pelagic fisheries). This talk will describe the reception and processing systems in place at NIWA, the products derived from these data – both the transparent and opaque parts of the spectrum, the challenge of the ill-posed nature of these data,  the synergy between models and the data, as well as some of the products being used by end users.


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Dr Michael Uddstrom - Principal Scientist - Environmental Forecasting, NIWA

Michael is NIWA’s Principal Scientist for Environmental Forecasting. He leads NIWA’s weather related hazards forecasting research effort, which is focussed on improving the accuracy of forecasts of weather, river-flood, flood inundation, sea-state, sea-level including storm surge, and rip current hazards as they affect New Zealand. In this role, he was also responsible for establishing NIWA’s operational forecasting system, EcoConnect, where the NWP components are local implementations of the Unified Model, including the New Zealand Convective Scale Model (NZCSM). NIWA has a long history with use of the Unified Model. In the mid 1990s it began using the UM for climate change simulations, and by 2000 had implemented and demonstrated its capabilities as a cycling, limited area data assimilating mesoscale model – the first successful implementation outside the Met Office.

Michael has more than 30 years experience in the development of satellite algorithms for application across a wide range of science problems - from fisheries analysis to numerical weather prediction, and was responsible for the development of the science and technology proposals that resulted in the acquisition of New Zealand’s first supercomputer in 1999, a Cray T3E 1200 and its successor in 2009/10, an IBM p575 system. He continues to be a champion for the development of High Performance Computing in New Zealand, and has recently been appointed as Platforms Manager for New Zealand’s National eScience Infrastructure, responsible for managing New Zealand’s supercomputers in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, a role he carries out in parallel with his NIWA responsibilities.


Aquatic Earth Observation: State-of-the-art, case studies, and looking forward

by Dr. Magnus Wettle (1), Dr. Thomas Heege (2), Kevin Mackay (3)
(1) EOMAP Australia, Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia, (2) EOMAP Germany, Seefeld Castle, Bavaria, Germany,
(3) NIWA, Greta Point, Wellington, New Zealand

Aquatic earth observation, with significant applications in sectors such as navigation, defence, oil and gas, and environmental management, can be broadly divided into two areas: monitoring water quality (e.g. turbidity, sediment loads or chlorophyll-a concentrations in the water column) and mapping the seafloor (e.g. bathymetry, seafloor reflectance, and benthic habitats).

Monitoring water quality using remote sensing has traditionally been done using sensors - such as on the MODIS satellites – with relatively coarse spatial resolution but frequent re-visit times. Applications for this have typically been in open ocean waters, limited by the complexities of inland and coastal aquatic environments and the lack of suitable higher resolution sensors. Dr Magnus Wettle will present a selection of case studies with government agencies, environmental consultancies and industry, which illustrate the state-of-the-art operational monitoring of inland and near coastal water quality using the latest generation of higher resolution satellite sensors.

Detecting the seafloor using remote sensing, particularly estimating water depth, has been in development since the 1970s, but it is in the last decade that the required physics-based algorithms and processing work flows have become sufficiently robust to offer an operational service - applicable worldwide with known accuracies - without the requirement for a priori, in situ field data. Dr Wettle will present a selection of case studies with government agencies, research institutes, environmental consultancies and industry which illustrate the state-of-the-art in mapping water depth, seafloor colour, and benthic habitats, using earth-orbiting satellite sensor data. In particular, he will present two New Zealand-based aquattic earth observation projects: mapping the bathymetry and shallow seafloor habitats of Marlborough Sounds together with NIWA, and mapping the shallow water bathymetry of Tonga and surrounding areas together with LINZ. Both projects were done with very high spatial resolution (2m pixel) satellite imagery, and the Tonga project will be one of the largest satellite-derived bathymetry projects completed worldwide, to date, at this level of resolution.

Looking forward, the next generation of platforms and sensors together with advancements in big data and AI, will further drive potential applications and continue lowering costs to the end user. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), capable of carrying multi- and hyper-spectral sensors, offer an additional platform for sourcing remotely sensed aquatic data. The potential opportunities and pitfalls for these will be briefly addressed.


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Dr Magnus Wettle - Managing Director, EOMAP Australia

Dr. Magnus Wettle has more than 15 years experience in the fields of aquatic earth observation research and applied solutions. During his career at CSIRO, he co-developed the SAMBUCA software, which is used today by CSIRO for shallow water applications. While at Geoscience Australia, he led the implementation of new capabilities, including satellite-based bathymetry and offshore oil seep detection. As a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, he managed the delivery of multi-disciplinary, remote sensing-based solutions to the natural resource industry. He joined EOMAP in 2012.


Using Remotely Sensed Tools for Combined Drought Indicators to Enhance Drought Early Warning for Decision Support

The fact that droughts, unlike most hazards, typically evolve slowly, last for months or years, and can cover thousands of square miles across multiple geopolitical boundaries makes it a daunting task to track them over space and time. In-situ networks will always face the challenges of underfunding, ongoing maintenance and not enough spatial density or uniform coverage to thoroughly monitor our hydroclimatic system. In the United States and abroad, many partners are working together to develop more coordinated and comprehensive drought early warning and information systems based in part on remotely sensed inputs, which can help augment our in situ networks. These systems are often centered around approaches aimed at building local capacity and for informing decision makers in the areas of food and water security.

The NDMC works to reduce societal vulnerability to drought by helping decision makers at all levels to: implement drought early warning systems, understand and prevent drought impacts, and increase long-term resilience to drought through proactive planning. The NDMC is a national/international center founded in 1995 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The NDMC conducts basic and applied research in the areas of development and maintenance of a number of operational drought-related decision support tools and databases, monitoring and early warning, education, outreach and other services in the United States and around the world.  

This presentation will describe in more detail the various combined drought indicator efforts that the NDMC and partners around the world have been involved in as we work to complement in-situ networks with the best that satellites and models can provide while utilizing the strengths of multiple indicators in order to customize early drought warning systems for specific needs. Special attention will be given to our current work with the United Nations, World Bank, USAID and other partners around the world.


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Dr Mark Svoboda - National Drought Mitigation Center/University of Nebraska-Lincoln Director, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

As the NDMC’s Director, Svoboda (a climatologist by training) administers and oversees the center’s staff and mission, which involves the research, operational, planning and education/outreach programs of the NDMC and NOAA’s Drought Risk Management Research Center.

Mark works closely with federal, tribal, state, basin, local and international officials and governments on drought monitoring early warning information systems, drought risk management planning and collaborative research. He provides expertise on a wide range of climate-water management issues and is responsible for assessing user product needs and responding to information and decision support requests.

Svoboda is involved with drought monitoring, assessment and prediction committees and activities at the state, regional, tribal, national and international levels. Mark Svoboda is the co-founder (1999), and served for 17 years as one of the principal authors of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. His work with the Core Team of the Western Governors’ Association led to the development of a report and recommendations on creating a National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) for the United States, which was authorised by Congress into public law in 2006.

Mark Svoboda is currently a member of the World Meteorological Organization/Global Water Partnership Integrated Drought Management Programme’s Advisory Panel and also serves on the NIDIS Executive Council. Most recently, he was selected to serve as a member of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Bureau of the Committee on Science and Technology’s (CST) Science Policy Interface (SPI) team. Mark’s Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees were all obtained at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Developing, validating, and using a Combined Drought Indicator: insights from co-development approaches in Tunisia

The development of environmental monitoring tools such as the Tunisian Combined Drought Indicator (CDI), and their ultimate integration into successful environmental management regimes, requires broad-based engagement, including with vulnerable populations, to inform and shape the monitoring outputs and technical development processes. Likewise, ensuring that decision support tools like the CDI reach the desired audiences requires strong institutional relationships, working partnership coalitions within and across government agencies and research, private sector, and civil society organisations. This presentation highlights how such wide-ranging engagement informed and laid the groundwork for the ongoing technical development, validation, and usage of the Tunisian CDI.

The agencies developing the Tunisian CDI initially focused primarily on rainfed agricultural conditions. As such, it currently incorporates the following data:

  • SPI (derived from the CHIRPS dataset)
  • Root-zone soil moisture (LIS model)
  • Day/night land surface temperature fluxes (MODIS)
  • Longer term aims: replace temperature flux with ESI (Python DisALEXI model); incorporate observed precipitation data in SPI; develop CDI variants incorporating the surface water supply index and/or an appropriate groundwater drought index

The DGRE has included national and local government agencies, research institutes, and the national farmers’ union in validation processes including nationwide workshops. Given the widespread skepticism of remote sensing and modelled data identified during the initial engagements, the DGRE is undertaking this extensive validation effort to form the requisite expert networks to ensure confidence in CDI results amongst its user-base and so it has a strong operational base for ongoing CDI improvement and usage. In addition, they are undertaking concurrent technical validation efforts using historical observed climatic, hydrological, and agricultural data.

The DGRE has used the CDI to inform in-situ drought monitoring and drought declaration processes. The DGRE also plans to introduce the information into water allocation decision-making processes that determine inter-basin transfers and reservoir management. Other agencies intend to use the information in the near future for a variety of purposes including seasonal crop planning, crop yield estimation, and import/export forecasting.

The relevant learnings for development of remote sensing tools are universal in application:

  • The criticality of building and reinforcing expert networks within and beyond government to facilitate the development and uptake of remote sensing-based information products and political decision support tools;
  • The role of institutional settings in leveraging cross-agency functions and relationships
  • The primary importance of effective data sharing mechanisms and data accessibility


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Stephen Fragaszy - Policy analyst – Environmental limits – Water Directorate, Ministry for the Environment

Stephen Fragaszy is a policy analyst focused on water management at the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment. He particularly enjoys inter-disciplinary work that has social and natural science features. Prior to joining the Ministry, he consulted for organisations and companies including the US National Drought Mitigation Center, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Oxford, FAO, and the US Department of Defense. Projects had research, stakeholder engagement, and institutional development and strategy components.

He has a history (NYU) and geography (Oxford) background. While living the good life, he has picked up smatterings of Arabic, French, and Spanish and joined the happy ranks of parenthood in recent years.


Nowcasting convective weather in New Zealand using neural networks

Convective weather, which produces thunderstorms, squalls, hail, heavy localised rainfall and tornadoes significantly impacts safety, efficiency and well being. It has small spatial scales (few kilometres), but is usually resolvable in geostationary satellite imagery. While great progress has been made forecasting at larger scales, analysis and forecasting of convective weather still relies heavily on human interpretation of satellite observations.

Machine learning has recently had great success in feature and pattern identification in a number of other fields, and now approaches or exceeds human skill. MetOcean Solutions and the Knowledge Engineering and Discovery Research Institute (Auckland Institute of Technology) have been founded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to develop and apply novel machine learning approaches to data from the Himawari geostationary satellite which observes the hemisphere that includes New Zealand. The aim of the project is to develop a system which can match or exceed the ability of a human forecaster to look at satellite imagery and predict the likely convective weather events associated with it.

The project is still in its early stages and the presentation will go over the aims, challenges and data involved involved in the project. The direction of research taken by MetOcean Solutions for its neural network approach to the problem will also be outlined.


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Dr Sébastien Delaux - Modeller, MetOcean Solutions

Sébastien has a degree in mathematical and mechanical modelling and a PhD working on computational fluid dynamics. Sébastien has been working for MetOcean Solutions for almost 7 years. He was initially involved in the development of a ship motion numerical model, that of an Under Keel Clearance tool as well as numerous consultancy projects. For the last 2 years, Sébastien has been mostly working on MetOcean Solutions data infrastructure and is now spending most of his time working on a deep learning project aimed at nowcasting convective weather in New Zealand from satellite images.


Remote Sensing for Automated Lake Monitoring

Freshwater is essential to New Zealand’s economic, environmental, cultural and social well-being. The New Zealand government prescribes that overall freshwater quality within a region must be maintained or improved and it gives regional councils the authority and responsibility to manage and monitor the freshwaters of their jurisdictions. However, with 3820 lakes larger than 1 hectare in New Zealand and less than 2% of them monitored consistently, our knowledge of water quality states and trends is highly biased.

Satellite remote sensing can help to address this challenge by estimating important water quality attributes frequently and nationwide from space. Data from passive optical sensors have been used to infer chlorophyll a, suspended matter concentrations and water clarity, but the accuracy of these determinations is currently problematic for state and trend analysis. This is partly because the retrieval algorithms are tailored to a small number of study lakes and fail when applied across the diverse range of lake types found in New Zealand. We promote the measurement of water colour as a powerful and intuitive water quality attribute. Water colour is directly, albeit not simply, related to algae, tannin staining and suspended matter, it is meaningful to the general public as an aesthetic criterion of water quality and it can be measured reliably using a multitude of instruments ranging from satellite sensors to smartphone cameras.

In this presentation, we show measurement of lake water colour of 1486 lakes from four years of Landsat 8 OLI data. This unprecedented synoptic dataset provides a rich source of information to address fundamental environmental questions, and provides information for stakeholders to investigate lake-specific processes. We are working towards an automated data processing service from which subscribers can receive status updates of the colour of their lakes of interest about 6 to 20 times per year from Landsat 8 and more often from the Sentinel series of satellites.


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Dr Moritz Lehmann - Research Fellow, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato

Moritz holds a PhD from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and has been a Senior Research Fellow with the University of Waikato in Hamilton since December 2014. He is an interdisciplinary aquatic scientist with with a background in oceanography, marine biology, computer science, mathematics and statistics and has over ten years of experience in research and consulting. Moritz’ research interests include the remote sensing of water quality in inland and coastal waters, dynamic ecosystem modelling and statistical methods for environmental monitoring and prediction. In his current work, Moritz takes a New Zealand-wide approach to map water quality of over 3800 lakes using satellite remote sensing and a good deal of field work at fabulously beautiful sites.




Responsive New Space

The New Zealand Defence Force plays a critical role alongside other government agencies in protecting and advancing our national security interests in New Zealand, the South Pacific and the Southern Ocean, in conducting search and rescue in the open ocean and in responding to national disasters, for example the Kaikoura earthquake. More often than not, the environmental conditions are at the extreme. With civilian lives at risk, rapid and precise responsiveness is vital. We, therefore, have to know the oceans, the coastal zone and the atmosphere, recognise and be resilient to the extremes, and adapt to variations, from climate change to geophysical disturbances. Studying the oceanic environment has underpinned the research, science and technology endeavors of the Defence Technology Agency of the New Zealand Defence Force for over sixty-five years. Much of the understanding has been attained by making and manually analysing discrete multi-point measurements and then framing models to fill in the gaps.  

'New Space' transforms the paradigm from expensive data scarcity to low-cost data abundance. Manual exploitation is no longer viable. Big data demands automation, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to extract timely and operationally useful information. This future offers great data opportunities, but we cannot do this alone. We must, and are increasingly partnering with others to make better use of these openings. Since 2013, the Defence Technology Agency has been collaborating with international partners to advance the utility of small satellites, in this case to enhance awareness of the New Zealand maritime zone. Our entry point was to build a ground station as a node within the ground segment of an international small satellite network. This is giving us exposure to satellite concepts, design, build and test, satellite missions and the running thereof, and, the automated operation of a ground station within a multi-user environment. The relative low-cost of new space is giving rise to constellations of hundreds of small satellites, thereby offering persistent and thus responsive Earth observation. Rapid satellite assembly and launch will deliver further responsiveness for specialised tasks.   


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Dr John Kay - Principal Scientist, Defence Technology Agency

Dr Kay has been employed as a scientist by the Defence Technology Agency and its predecessors for 37 years. He currently holds the position of Principal Scientist. John’s expertise and experience extends from the sea floor through the maritime domain to space. He has led New Zealand’s participation in international defence science research and development collaborations, working with many scientists and policy experts both domestically and internationally.

Most recently, John has made significant contributions in areas of space-based systems where emerging low cost small satellites placed in low earth polar orbit offer openings to enhance our awareness, understanding and security of our maritime region spanning the South Pacific and Southern Oceans. Dr Kay is an internationally recognised leader in defence science and technology, and, was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours 2018 for services to the New Zealand Defence Force.


University of Canterbury Sounding Rocket Program – development of research foundation and student training for the NZ space industry

This talk will cover the history of UC Rocketry research and the collaboration with Rocket Lab which has resulted in more than $1.5M in external rocketry research funding raised by Dr Hann since 2010. An important part of the research was performed during a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship from 2012-2016 which was sponsored by the Royal Society of NZ. This Fellowship resulted in a group of highly trained students who have played a major role in Rocket Lab including several key leadership positions in Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC), as well as avionics and propulsion. Furthermore, five of the launch operator positions at Mahia Peninsula were taken by past/present UC Rocketry research students. The research with Rocket Lab involved the development of new GNC methodologies that were successfully tested in many subsonic and supersonic rocket launches from the UC Rocketry Kaitorete Spit launch site. This research provided the foundation for the GNC on Rocket Lab’s orbital vehicle 'Electron' and included the development of orbital mechanics and trajectory optimization techniques in collaboration with ASTOS in Germany. This GNC knowledge was transferred to Rocket Lab through the UC Rocketry students with five Callaghan Innovation Student Fellowships.


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Dr Chris Hann - Senior Lecturer, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Canterbury

Dr. Christopher E. Hann has extensive research and teaching experience in minimal modelling, parameter identification and control for rocketry systems and aerospace engineering in general. He has a proven track record in developing research for the high tech industry with over $2.5M external funding raised since 2010. This work has led to major outcomes in sounding rocket control systems including developing the research foundation for the Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) algorithms on Rocket Lab’s orbital rocket Electron, recently proven in orbit. Six of Hann’s postgraduate students are in key positions at Rocket Lab including several in important leadership roles in GNC, avionics and propulsion.

Since 2010, the methods have also been successfully applied to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), robotics and structural health monitoring of multi-storey buildings. Prior to 2010 Hann’s research was primarily used in the medical field, particularly for glucose control, lung ventilation and cardiovascular management in the Christchurch Intensive Care Unit. He has 110 journal papers, 163 refereed conference papers and 3 US patents.


Space Systems Development at The University of Auckland

By: Nicholas Rattenbury, John Cater and Jim Hefkey

This presentation will outline the work at the University of Auckland in developing space systems capacity for space-based Earth observation projects. This includes the Auckland Programme for Space Systems (APSS) which is the University’s interdisciplinary undergraduate small satellite design competition. This mission will be making observations of the ionosphere, a poorly understood part of Earth’s atmosphere. Current research in the Faculties of Engineering and Science include an MBIE-funded project in the development of a novel synthetic aperture radar antenna system for low-cost earth observation satellites. The University of Auckland is also working with the Australian National University and Stanford University to develop small satellite propulsion systems -- a key element in the control of monitoring missions. ANU is also home to the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre which comprises a world-class satellite and space systems testing and integration facility. The AITC is where we will be space-qualifying the first APSS satellite. We would like to highlight the opportunities for New Zealand to test space system hardware at the AITC.


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Dr Nicholas Rattenbury

Dr Nicholas Rattenbury is a Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellow. He completed his PhD in Physics at the University of Auckland and shortly thereafter left to do post-doctoral research at Jodrell Bank Observatory, The University of Manchester. After nearly five years of research, he worked for several years as a trainee patent attorney before returning to academia at Manchester Metropolitan University.

As an RDF, Nicholas returned to New Zealand to continue his research in astrophysics. He is one of a team of University researchers working towards fostering the New Zealand space industry. Nicholas' particular interest is in the development and use of nanosatellites to develop and test innovative satellite subsystems. Together with his colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering, they are developing new methods and antenna technologies to enable synthetic aperture radar observations from a nanosatellite platform. Their broader interests include developing optical communication and propulsion subsystems for nanosatellites. Nicholas helps guide the cross-disciplinary undergraduate student teams to design and develop space missions as part of our regular mission design competition, the Auckland Programme for Space Systems. He is also leading the design and construction of a satellite ground tracking station to monitor their satellite assets.

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Dr John Cater - Deputy Head of Department, Department of Engineering Science, University of Auckland

John Cater is the Engineering Lead for the Auckland Programme for Space Systems.

He has PhD in Aerospace Engineering and works in flow control, aerodynamics and hypersonic boundary layers.


Ground network capability for New Space

The presentation will discuss the global network of ground stations deployed by KSAT to meet the increased number of small satellites. 


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Borre Pedersen - International Sales Director - Ground Segment, Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT)

Borre is the International Sales Director - Ground Segment at Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT). He started with the company in 1998, working on the Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) when the site had a single antenna. Over the next five years, the site developed extensively and KSAT installed numerous large aperture systems on the site.

As the International Sales Director, Borre works with government agencies and private entities all over the world to provide the right technical solutions, utilising KSAT's growing global network of ground stations.

Borre graduated with a BSc in Automation from the University of Bergen, Norway in 1994. 


ATLAS – An Enabling Technology Partner for New Zealand

ATLAS Space Operations is a global satellite communications company utilising software-based technologies to provide a simplified, cost effective solution to their customers. Their proprietary data management platform – ATLAS FreedomTM and a scalable proprietary satellite ground station technology, ATLAS LINKS TM Electronically Steered Array, create a paradigm-shifting alternative to traditional parabolic, mechanically steered RF satellite ground stations. Legacy technology continues to hamper down progress in the New Space era, which is precisely what they aim to change with their revolutionary approach. ATLAS FreedomTM is a cloud-based solution for gathering information from space for use on the ground. It simplifies the process of managing a spacecraft and expediting data to its user. Technologies such as this will play an integral role in supporting New Zealand’s space data initiatives and industry leading companies, such as Rocket Lab. Providing a software-platform and affordable, turn-key solution to young enterprises attempting to break into the New Space industry is essential. By lowering the price point to achieve access to space, ATLAS can allow start-ups to showcase their own revolutionary technologies.

ATLAS LINKS TM is a lightweight, eco-friendly, man-portable alternative to the traditional parabolic antenna we have all become accustomed to. Because the LINKS system is electronically steered, it has no moving parts. This results in a significant reduction in maintenance and noise reduction – meaning better performance than ever before. The entire system can be set up and taken down in minutes, making it effective as a portable system for surge support and remote operations for launch, early on-orbit operations, and temporary uses.

ATLAS will be advancing the development of the ATLAS LINKS System as a state-of-the-art lightweight, high-performance alternative to traditional parabolic, mechanically steered radio frequency (RF) satellite ground stations. This game-changing technology network provides affordable cloud-based solutions for space access in the rapidly growing global space market to deliver mission success.

ATLAS was founded on the ideal of providing affordable access to space for all, at the highest possible level of service.


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Mike Carey - Chief Strategy Officer, Atlas Space Operations

Mike Carey is a Founder and the Chief Strategy Officer of ATLAS Space Operations, Inc. A former USAF Major General with 34 years of experience in satellite and space-related operations, Mike shapes ATLAS’s future through strategy development, business planning and market engagement. General Carey also led AAC Microtec, North America, Inc. from 2014-2017, culminating in their IPO and recent advances in the market.

Experienced with recent commercial space ventures, the Air Force Satellite Control Network, Eastern/Western test ranges, and the Space Test & Training Range, General Carey has the technical and political prowess to manoeuver in the ever-expanding space markets.


The future of the space industry from the perspective of Maxar Technologies including potential commercial challenges and opportunities

Tod Cooper, with a unique commercial and procurement perspective, will provide a look at the future of the space industry from the perspective of Maxar Technologies, an industry leading vertically integrated space and geospatial intelligence powerhouse, comprising MDA, SSL, Radiant Solutions, and Digital Globe. Tod will also look at commercial opportunities and challenges that will present themselves, particular to New Zealand, as this industry becomes more and more accessible to small business.


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Tod Cooper - General Manager - Australasia, MDA Corporation

Tod has been involved in commercial and operational leadership and advisory roles for the past 15 years. A former NZ diplomat and more recently Head of Commercial and Procurement for Land Information New Zealand, Tod was recently appointed as the NZ-based General Manager, Surveillance and Intelligence for MDA Corporation, the Canadian space powerhouse, with responsibility across both Australia and New Zealand.


Continuing Satellite Ground Station Developments in Southland

Venture Southland joined the international space community in 2004 with the establishment of the Awarua Satellite Ground Station, between Invercargill and Bluff, for the launch early operations phase of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 ATV resupply missions to the International Space Station. Venture Southland’s work in the space sector has expanded to provide multi-mission multi-satellite ground segment support to the world’s best-known small-sat operators, certain Rocket Lab campaigns and others. Satellite Earth observation and remote sensing missions are of particular interest. Venture Southland has its own UHF capabilities and is building an S-Band antenna to support other missions and campaigns.


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Robin McNeill - Engineering Projects and Ground Segment Manager, Venture Southland

Mr McNeill heads Venture Southland’s space operations. He has been involved with building ground stations in Antarctica, Tokelau and Southland since 1991. Prior to joining Venture Southland in 2004 he worked with New Zealand Post Office, Telecom New Zealand and ITU.

He has an honours degree in Engineering from the University of Canterbury, and is a member of AIAA, senior member of IEEE and a fellow of Engineering New Zealand. Mr McNeill was presented the Rabone Award for Engineering Excellence in 2016 and was appointed Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2017. 




Advances in remote sensing for terrestrial hydrology

Remote sensing can enhance our understanding and knowledge of terrestrial hydrology and hydrologic fluxes at the land-air interface, and terrestrial water stores.  In the area of active remote sensing, some recent advances may hold promise for enhanced observational capabilities in understanding and characterizing terrestrial freshwater resources and fluxes.

Remote sensing offers intriguing tools to track surface water hydrology, but current techniques are largely limited to tracking either inundation or water surface elevation only.  For the first time, the upcoming Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite mission will provide regular, simultaneous observations of inundation extent and water level from space (2021). SWOT is unique and distinct from precursor altimetry missions in some notable regards: 1) 100km+ of swath will provide complete ocean elevation coverage, 2) in addition to the ocean product, land surface water will be mapped for storage measurement and discharge estimation and 3) Ka-band single-pass interferometry will produce the height measurements introducing a new measurement technique.

Snow cover and its melt dominate water sources in many of the world’s mountainous regions, along with areas downstream which depend on river flows originating from mountain basins. However, snow water equivalent (SWE) across Earth is very poorly known. Our inability to measure and track distribution of SWE severely limits our skill in modeling snow cover for climate and hydrology. In 2013, NASA/JPL began an ambitious program to solve the need for distributed SWE and coincident snow albedo, developing the Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO). The SWE component of the ASO comes from the scanning lidar, which is used to map distributed topography for snow-free and snow-on conditions and in turn snow depth. SWE is generated from the snow depth maps and snow density models constrained by in situ measurements.  Recent work has demonstrated similar capabilities might be achieved through the use of high-accuracy interferometric radar may be able to make similar measurements, but with the advantage of being impervious to cloud cover.

 The key controlling variable of the hydrologic partitioning over terrestrial surfaces is soil moisture and its profile within the root-zone.  Surface moisture (0-0.1m) and its variation are controlled by surface soil evaporation and runoff.  Deeper moisture (0.1-1m) and its variation are strongly related to drainage and transpiration by deep-rooted grasses and trees.  The difference between the two reservoirs characterizes the soil moisture gradient, which undergoes frequent reversals in response to wetting and drying periods.  The root zone soil moisture (RZSM) reflects much more adequately the water available for plant utilization in the immediate to near-term.  This information at a high spatial resolution is highly pertinent for precision management at the plot-scale and can be tailored for individual crop needs.  Under a NASA Earth Ventures mission (PI Prof. Moghaddam, USC) the retrieval of vertically resolved root-zone soil moisture (RZSM) profiles were successfully demonstrated from P-band radar observations. The retrieval error of RZSM profiles was shown to be less than 0.05 m3/m3 calculated over several biomes representative of north American landscapes.


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Dr Delwyn Moller -  Director of Research, Centre for Space Science Technology

Dr. Delwyn K. Moller is the newly appointed Director of Research at the Centre for Space Science Technology, Alexandra, NZ. Prior to this she was a Principal Systems Engineer at Remote Sensing Solutions Inc (RSS). She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst after completing the M.E degree (Distinction) and the B.E. degree (Honors) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.  She joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where she worked on radar technology, primarily with a focus toward Earth science. Both at JPL and in her position at RSS, she has developed innovative state-of-the-art remote sensing systems for measuring critical aspects of the Earth’s surface to support science research and applied sciences.

Delwyn has lead numerous NASA and non-NASA endeavours, with applications ranging from global surface mapping of ocean currents, ice-surface topography, surface water hydrology, snow depth, soil moisture, precipitation, seismology and radars for guided landing on other planets. These activities have included ground-based, airborne and spaceborne systems. She has won multiple JPL and NASA awards including being a co-recipient on the prestigious NASA Space Act award for a planetary landing radar design.

Her career has largely focused on developing imaging radars and interferometry for mapping terrain, water, snow and ice-covered surfaces with high-resolution and accuracy that enables new areas of scientific discovery. She has teamed up with some of the world’s most eminent scientists to mature the research and development in these various arenas. The capabilities that have resulted have potential impact in the commercial, government and humanitarian sectors.

In addition to her continued research, Delwyn is working to transition her work so that it can be made available in the public sector for broader utilization. For example, the technology Dr Moller has developed could be used in developing nations for enhancing flood-forecasting through providing better topographic flood-plain maps over large-scales. Similarly vulnerability to sea-level rise of coastal regions could be assessed providing critical information to regional planners. Further, such technologies could be employed to support hydroelectric forecasting, precision agriculture, and disaster response.


New eyes to shed new light on New Zealand ever-changing topography

Accurate and timely knowledge of land elevation underpins the economic development, environmental sustainability, and resilience of our society. In the Southern Alps of New Zealand, tectonic and glacial activity create a land surface that can change rapidly with time. Recent developments in space-borne sensors now allow high quality topographic products to be created that are competitive with aerial alternatives. We have developed a proof-of-concept capability to transform rapidly and reliably such imagery into high-resolution surface elevation data. This is exemplified by recent processing of data from the PLEIADES satellite constellation operated by AIRBUS DS that has allowed to detect and mitigate a potentially life-threatening hazard in the Mt Cook National Park, leading to the immediate closure of the iconic Murchison hut. With various operators growing constellations of very high-resolution (VHR) space borne optical sensors (e.g., AIRBUS DS, DigitalGlobe, Disaster Monitoring Constellation), the availability of bi/multi-stereo imagery has increased significantly. Simultaneously, space borne photogrammetry has benefitted from significant progress in image processing enabling high quality reconstruction of topography in complex terrain to be generated.

This step-change in high-resolution topographic mapping via space-based remote sensing is a transforming opportunity to complement and add to national mapping efforts, support growth in the geospatial economy by developing capacity to deliver up-to-date high quality data, and an opportunity to contribute significantly to the geohazard monitoring strategy in New Zealand. Furthermore, the rapid growth in imagery capabilities will soon create new opportunities associated with the regular monitoring of topography at high spatial and temporal resolution that will transform the way we see and monitor our environment, aid efforts to mitigate risk and hazards, as well as build social resilience.


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Dr Pascal Sirguey - Senior Lecturer, National School of Surveying, University of Otago

Pascal obtained a diploma of multidisciplinary engineering majoring in mechanical engineering and structure dynamics from the École Centrale de Lyon in France in 2001. He started a career as a research engineer with a manufacturer of aircraft engines, then became a chief project manager for a famous watch manufacturer in Switzerland. In 2005, Pascal discovered the science of remote sensing and completed a PhD with the School of Surveying. He joined the School's academic team in early 2008 where he now holds a senior lecturer position.

Pascal teaches and conducts research in areas of Remote Sensing, Photogrammetry, and Spatial Analysis and published over 50 peer-reviewed research papers. Pascal made himself known to the wider public in 2014 with the resurvey of Aoraki/Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest peak) for which he was awarded a New Zealand Spatial Excellence Award (NZSEA) and the Young Mountain Cartographer Award from the International Cartographic Association. He was also the PI and led the LiDARRAS project that recently completed the survey and massive (laser)scanning of a network of tunnels and quarries dug by the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company in the Northern France city of Arras during WWI. Pascal was awarded the 2017 Charles Fleming Senior Scientist Award by the New Zealand Royal Society to support his research on snow and glaciers in New Zealand.


Natural Hazard Remote Sensing: using satellite and aerial imagery to map landslides
in New Zealand

Remotely sensed data is a key component for natural hazard research undertaken at GNS Science, often used to map geological features and damage following large disaster events. Satellite and aerial imagery are used for visual inspection of landslide failures, liquefaction and fault rupture, along with LiDAR and InSAR which can show ground displacements following large earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Combining visual data with elevation models generates an invaluable resource in mapping, modelling and assessing geological hazards by enabling remote identification of sub-metre scale geomorphic features and have proven instrumental in geologic, paleoseismic and geomorphic research.

Digital inventories following large scale landslide events are extremely useful for understanding relationships between slope failure and rainfall or ground shaking, along with informing local councils and affected communities on the extent of damage. However, there is often a concession between resolution, speed of capture, spectral range and cost which can affect the final output of the product along with its application for geological research. Recent applied remote sensing studies from the 2011 Hawkes Bay landslides and Ligar Bay debris flow triggered by extreme rainfall events will be presented, along with landslide and fault mapping from the 14 November 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake. Each case study will highlight the benefits and outputs from incorporating both satellite imagery and aerial photographs into event response research at GNS Science, along with the current limitations of use when utilising this remotely sensed data.


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Katie Jones - Remote Sensing and 3D Geology Technician, GNS Science

Katie Jones is a Remote Sensing and 3D Geology Senior Technician at GNS Science with a background in geomorphology. She holds a BSc from Victoria University with a double major in Geography & Geology, and a MSc in Physical Geography. Katie is involved in hazard response remote sensing research at GNS, tasking, processing and analysis of satellite imagery, aerial photos, UAV and lidar datasets following large scale events such as rainfall induced landslides or debris flows and earthquakes. Katie uses photogrammetry and Structure from Motion derived datasets for geomorphic change detection to generate landslide volumes and identify areas of tectonic displacement, and uses imagery alongside these datasets to generate landslide and debris flow inventories mapping landscape damage and sediment transport.



12-years of earth observation for greenhouse gas reporting in New Zealand

Since 2006, the Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS) programme at the Ministry for the Environment has been gathering earth observation data to report changes in carbon stocks resulting from land use change in New Zealand. Earth observation data has provided an unparalleled opportunity to detect and map changes in our landscape, however this has not been without its challenges. This talk will provide a brief overview of the LUCAS mapping programme, including the various sensors used through the years. It will examine some of the particular challenges of maintaining a consistent monitoring programme with changing technology, and will look to some of the opportunities for future development of the programme.


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Deborah Burgess - Senior Geospatial Analyst - LUCAS, Ministry for the Environment

Deborah studied Information technology and image processing at Massey University (BSc(hons), 1989) which led to a role as a remote sensing scientist with Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research in the 1990s. At Landcare, she worked on feature extraction and modelling bi-directional reflectance effects in vegetation. After a number of years of full-time family management, Deborah undertook a Post-grad diploma in GIS at Victoria University and worked in the commercial geospatial sector before joining the Ministry for the Environment in 2008. Since 2011, she has led the mapping programme within LUCAS, which is responsible for international greenhouse gas reporting on land use change under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol.



Expanding forest plot data using UAVs and terrestrial lidar to better ground-truth satellite data

An important issue commonly faced during classification of satellite imagery is the applicability of a given approach to a wider area, such as the entire landmass of New Zealand. Ground data is essential to both informing classification approaches as well as assessing them, yet it is often very expensive and time consuming to obtain. The LUCAS permanent plot network as well as the NVS (National Vegetation Survey) forest plot database are potentially extremely valuable sources of ground-based information for remote sensing, however there are several issues that must be overcome before they can be used. This presentation will cover the main issues of plot size and location accuracy, the combination of which often make it difficult to tell which satellite pixels fall on or around a given plot. We will also explore the related issue of how representative a given plot is of its surrounding area, from a remote sensing perspective, and present our current approach to resolving these issues. This work falls under one of the goals of the Advanced Remote Sensing of Aotearoa project which is to expand the size of a number of forest plots by mapping their representative area using data collected about the area surrounding each one from a variety of sensors, both ground and air-based, to improve available satellite ground-truth data.


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Dr Ben Jolly - Scientific Programmer, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research

Originally trained as a Software and Electronics Engineer, Ben joined Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research in 2015 while in the final stages of completing his PhD in Atmospheric Physics.

As a Scientific Programmer in the Informatics team, he now works across a variety of projects involved with remote sensing, Antarctic weather and climate, high performance computing, RPAS ('drones'), terrestrial and mobile laser scanners, and the development of scientific software.


Application of remote sensing products and techniques at ecologically relevant spatial scales

by Terry Greene*, Derek Brown, Richard Earl, Ann De Schutter, William Bannister & James Griffiths

The Department of Conservation is charged with managing approximately one third of the terrestrial land area of New Zealand. The overwhelming majority of these Public Conservation Lands (PCL) are infrastructure poor, remote, steep and mountainous, and usually covered in tall forest, shrubland and grassland communities. Not surprisingly, this presents considerable management and monitoring challenges for conservation staff. However, the increasing adoption of GIS technologies, sophisticated analytic routines, improved computational power and the integration of these with geospatial imagery from multiple platforms is presenting NZ conservation ecologists with a vast volume of information at increasingly ecologically relevant scales. Unfortunately, ecologists have been relatively late adopting remote sensing as a means of enhancing more traditional observer-based field methodologies. Presumably this has been driven by the historically coarse resolution of satellite imagery relative to the ecological scale of interest, expensive and operationally complex hardware and software and the difficulties of applying remote sensing in some situations. In this talk, Terry will outline some of the recent case studies they are conducting to test the application of remotely sensed data (satellite and aircraft-based sensors) for conservation.


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Terry Greene - Science Advisor—PMR—Biodiversity, Science & Policy, Department of Conservation

Following completion of post-graduate studies at Auckland University in 1988 Terry commenced working for DOC as a contractor in the late 1980’s then as an ecologist from 1996. His initial career was spent working on various threatened species recovery programmes throughout the country including offshore and outlying islands from the tropics to the sub-Antarctic as well as research in Antarctica. Assessment of monitoring methodologies and their appropriate field application have become important aspects of Terry's role as DOC seeks to accurately assess the efficacy of management actions and look for more efficient ways of doing things.

Remote sensing technologies have remained a strong interest since his first exposure as an undergraduate in the mid 1980’s. Terry’s co-workers and he are increasingly involved in exploring and promoting remote sensing technologies such as acoustic monitoring, satellite imaging and high-resolution aerial and multispectral photography for conservation purposes.


Automatic masking of cloud & cloud shadow from New Zealand’s Sentinel 2 imagery – not an easy task

by James Shepherd, Ben Jolly, David Pairman, James Shepherd, Jan Zoerner & John Dymond

The free availability of Sentinel 2 optical satellite imagery presents a significant opportunity for land cover classification of New Zealand. Sentinel 2 imagery is acquired every 5 days, has 10m spatial resolution and better spectral resolution than either Landsat or SPOT satellite imagery. This and its low cost make Sentinel imagery ideal to continue and improve mapping programs that previously relied on commercial satellite imagery sources. One such example is the Land Cover Database (LCDB) of New Zealand which currently contains national data for four mapping dates. The MBIE funded research programme “Advanced Remote Sensing of Aotearoa” will use temporal Sentinel imagery to develop methods to improve LCDB’s thematic accuracy and create additional data layers for future mapping.  Achieving these goals will require the ability to automatically mask cloud and cloud shadow from large volumes of temporal imagery to a standard similar to that performed by manual interpretation. This has proven to be difficult, particularly in a cloudy country like New Zealand. We will demonstrate our Sentinel 2 imagery processing of NZ, compare current cloud and cloud shadow detection methods, and discuss future research opportunities.


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Dr James Shepherd - Senior Scientist - Remote Sensing & Image Processing Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research

James Shepherd is a senior scientist at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research with 21 years of experience in remote sensing and image processing. He has specialised in correcting satellite imagery for atmospheric, topographic and directional effects and its subsequent classification for environmental applications.

James also has experience in object-based image analysis as well as the processing and application of LiDAR data.


Vertical GPS, tectonics and effective sea level rise in New Zealand

One of the important applications of space science to NZ is the study of natural hazards, and in particular measurements of sea level rise. Traditionally the method for measuring sea level is by tide gauges. The reference is then the shore line. If, however, the land itself is moving up or down due to tectonics then the tide gauge is measuring the sum of tectonics and (global) sea level change. Direct observations of vertical movements of the earth’s surface, with respect to the centre of the earth, are now possible with the space-based global positioning system (GPS) networks. Here we present data on vertical movements of the Earth’s surface in New Zealand, computed from the processing of GPS data collected between 2000 and 2015 by 189 permanent GPS stations. We map the geographical variation in vertical rates and show how these variations are explicable within a tectonic framework of subduction, volcanic activity and slow slip earthquakes. Subsidence of > 3 mm/yr is observed along southeastern North Island ( from Napier south) and is interpreted to be due to the locked segment of the Hikurangi subduction zone. For a global sea level change of ~ 3 mm/y the effective sea-level change for this part of NZ is now 6 mm/y. On the other-hand there are parts of the western North Island  coastline undergoing tectonic uplift of 1-2 mm/y and in these areas the effective sea level change will be less than the global rate. By far the biggest signal in the GPS field is a large area ( 100 km x 50 km) where subsidence is ~ 25 mm/y in the Taupo-Rotorua area. Causes of this anomaly and implications for hazards will be discussed.


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Dr Tim Stern - Professor of Geophysics, Victoria University of Wellington

Dr Tim Stern is a Professor of Geophysics and the Programme Director for Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington. Tim's research interest is in the structure and tectonics of the soild Earth. He studies the source and causes of volcanism, mountain building, sedimentary basin formation and plate tectonics. Tim's focus areas are Antarctica and the wider New Zealand continent. Research applications include:

  • Providing an understanding of earthquakes and their occurrence throughout the greater New Zealand area.
  • Provide a geological framework and interpretation for sedimentary basins, and their resources, of onshore New Zealand and within the Extended Economic Zone (EEZ).

Since 2004, Tim has led, or co-led, four Marsden funded programs – seismic exploration of the North Island’s upper mantle (2004); recording and interpreting microearthquakes on the central section of the Alpine fault (2008); an investigation of mantle processes that drive the uplift of the central North and South Island (2012); application of small scale convection processes to uplift of major mountain ranges such as the Transantarctic Mountains (2016).

Dr Tim Stern is an Elected Fellow of American Geophysical Union (2012), an Elected Fellow of Royal Society of New Zealand (2007), LeverHulme visiting professorship to UK in 2010, and a James Cook Fellowship, Royal Society (2010-12).




How reliable is your Data?

Production chains, government agencies and scientific researchers are experiencing a “Big Data Deluge” from all type of sources, sensors, space, legacy systems, etc. Users are exposed to novel concepts such as Internet of Things, Machine Learning and other buzzwords. But how safe and reliable is your Data coming from satellites or IoT devices? Are you actually making good sense of it?

Since 2013, Open Parallel have been contributing to the design of the compute platforms of the Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope (SKA), the largest mega-science project of the world. In the next decade, the SKA will process data and images at rates that are orders of magnitude greater than anything existent today. Their work is now moving into cyber security, open source operating systems, and large, large amounts of data that need to be processed and stored in a useful way. They are investigating applications of these technologies into New Zealand’s Primary Sector in areas such as Precision Agriculture.

This talk will discuss Data Interrogation Tools, UX designs and systems engineering techniques so users can access data from i.e. European Satellites with the same ease as from sensors at their farm, and combine them to make adequate decisions i.e. for Precision Irrigation and Water Management.


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Nicolás Erdödy - CEO, Open Parallell Ltd

Nicolás Erdödy is founder and CEO of Open Parallel Ltd., a high-tech R&D firm. A recognised international speaker, Nicolás is behind Multicore World - a specialised high-tech conference with an economic development agenda for New Zealand.

He holds a Master of Entrepreneurship from the University of Otago, lives in Oamaru, in the South Island of New Zealand, and knows how to ask for a beer in five human languages.


Lauder, a hot spot for satellite climate observations

Over the last ten years, the small town of Lauder in Central Otago has become one of the most measured sites in the Southern Hemisphere by a progression of climate observing satellites. Lauder is so valuable to spacecraft operators and science teams because of its location on the globe, its local climatology, and for the vast array of ground truth measurements conducted at NIWA’s Lauder atmospheric research observatory. In this talk, Dave will describe why this barely-there Otago settlement is, for a group of international scientists, the major centre of New Zealand.


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Dave Pollard - Atmospheric Scientist, NIWA

Dave has nearly twenty years’ experience in atmospheric remote sensing. After studying Physics with Space Science and Technology at the University of Leicester in the UK, he went on to spend ten years working for the UK Met Office as an Instrumentation Scientist conducting microwave remote sensing from the UK’s atmospheric research aircraft.

In 2014, he shifted to Lauder to work for NIWA as the principal investigator for the Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON) site at Lauder.


Exploring the benefits of cloud computing services on satellite data processing

After developing nationwide hydrological datasets in the Smart Aquifer Characterisation (SAC) programme, GNS Science started to explore the current capability of cloud computing services for satellite data processing. The main reason for that was to gain speed in the very time-consuming calculation of nationwide or large-scale satellite data processing.

In the SAC research, these typically took months to download and process, therefore GNS Science wanted to see if cloud computing services could speed up these calculations. The results were very successful, so they decided to focus on the use of the Google Earth Engine (multi-petabytes archive in cloud computing service, including cloud-based machine learning algorithms) to analyse New Zealand’s wetland, flood plains, forestry and agriculture. This resulted in mapping wetlands and floods with a resolution of 10m x 10m (e.g. Otago flood in July 2017, Edgecumbe floods April 2017), and councils have also asked to analyse other land-use change events, such as:

  • forest loss and gain over time per region and for the nation.
  • classification of willows in wetlands
  • classification of variety of vegetation in wetlands
  • land use change in general (e.g. spraying)

As GNS Science was already using the Google Earth Engine, there was no need to download data, nor process them on their own computers. Hence, all the requests could be easily analysed in a a very short amount of time. Dr Westerhoff will present application demonstrations for multiple regional councils, as well as nationwide datasets.


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Dr Rogier Westerhoff - Remote Sensing Scientist - Hydrogeology, GNS Science

Dr. Rogier Westerhoff is a remote sensing scientist working at the Hydrogeology Department of GNS Science. Rogier is mostly involved in the incorporation of satellite data into large-scale (nationwide) hydrogeological models that are able to fill in the gaps in data-sparse areas. Rogier works with the Google Earth Engine (GEE), a cloud computing service that facilitates fast processing of multi-petabyte archive of satellite data, from the 1980s to a few days old, from multiple satellites.

In the last year Rogier has assisted regional councils in their mapping of floods, vegetation, wetlands and forestry. The aim was to build capability to roll out these cloud-computing services, including machine learning, within the regional councils. 



Artificial Intelligence, Machine Leaning, 'deep learning' models in New Zealand Agriculture and the problems that can be solved with satellite data

The science of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning made a significant breakthrough (“equivalent to the Fosbury Flop” in the high jump) in 2012 when a new “deep” model won a computer vision competition. That “deep learning” model rendered all previous models obsolete, revolutionising the way problems are solved. Applications of deep models being developed around the world include self-driving cars, speech recognition, computer assistants (Siri), real-time language translation, lip-reading, object classification in photographs, fraud detection, stock market prediction and marketing applications such as product recommendations and optimal advertisement delivery.

Precision AI creates deep algorithms and models to solve data science problems in New Zealand and worldwide. Applications developed include analysis of medical and agricultural images (ground, drone and satellite images), sensor analysis (including hyperspectral), pest detection and identification, pre-harvest yield prediction (counting buds and berries) and bioinformatics (breeding). They specialise in commercialising the application of deep learning and machine learning so believe this would provide a unique skill set to the speakers at the What on Earth Colloquium.

This presentation will cover:

  • What is Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning?
  • What does “deep” mean for New Zealand agriculture?
  • What is Precision AI currently working on and what problems need to be solved using satellite data?

Particular machine learning and deep learning applications using imagery Precision AI are working on with large commercial customers would be included i.e. (Waka Digital, Eurofins and Zespri). Deep learning is changing the way we think about agriculture and through collaboration, we will reach new heights.


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James Beech - Senior Data Scientist, Precision AI

James Beech is a Senior Data Scientist at Precision Artificial Intelligence with over 15 years experience in software development, advanced analytics and data visualisation. His experience spans across financial services, telecommunications and the agricultural sectors. James specialises in open data, data infrastructures, business intelligence dashboards and predictive modelling. James has a particular interest in the application of big data through the use of statistical and analytic techniques to solve business problems. Technologies and toolsets: VB, VBA, SAS, SPSS, R, Tableau, PowerBI, Microsoft Azure cloud, Hadoop, Matlab.


Build automated feature extraction systems from data collected from any platform

Advancements in Earth observation data from satellites, planes and drones means that big data is a big part of our world.  This paper presents Orbica’s research to build automated feature extraction systems from data collected from any platform.  Orbica can turn this big data into big information by combining the best of geoprocessing with the latest advancements and methodologies in artificial intelligence (AI), to create methodologies that can extract features of the earth’s surface from only 3-band imagery. They currently have algorithms that can extract – with high accuracy and very fast performance – building outlines, roads and surface water types from this 3-band imagery.

Orbica's advancements include:

  • Ability to consume data at high speed
  • Ability to automate AI and geoprocessing to output raster and vector datasets
  • Agnostic of dataset. It can be tuned to extract information from many resolutions
  • Very scalable due to ground-up architecture of the models
  • Levels of certainty are provided against all datasets through confusion matrixes

This presentation will appeal to all those interested in taking existing and future imagery data collections and turning these raw images into actionable information using the latest advancements in AI and geospatial.


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Kurt Janssen - CEO/Founder, Orbica

Kurt is a geospatial entrepreneur and founder of Christchurch-based location data intelligence company Orbica. He has a BSc Hons (Geography) from the University of Canterbury and a wealth of experience working for central government and private companies in New Zealand and California, U.S.  Kurt is passionate about geography and has developed a talented team of disruptive thinkers around him who apply their cumulative experience and knowledge to solve tough problems with cost-effective, location data enabled solutions. Orbica is leading the geospatial sector with its investment into artificial intelligence and its ability to automate traditional business workflows to improve accuracy, efficiency and value for clients.


Monitoring Big Issues with Big Data – developments at the University of Waikato

The Environmental Research Institute at the University of Waikato has been active in utilising satellite image archives to develop processes for monitoring water quality of lakes in New Zealand, and developing a model to predict ice melt in Antarctica from daily MODIS land surface temperature data. Thousands of images have been downloaded and analysed using automated processes. Different AI techniques have been compared to determine which is the most accurate in different contexts. A brief overview of these projects will be provided, as well as some innovations in combining GIS data and spectral data to identify individual Pohutukawa trees from space.


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Dr Mathew Allan - Senior Researcher, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato

Born in Te Kuiti in 1979, Mathew grew up in Hawkes Bay and has a Ph.D from the University of Waikato.

Mathew’s Ph.D. thesis investigated the use of remote sensing and in situ data to create empirical and semi-analytical algorithms for the retrieval of chlorophyll a, suspended particles and water surface temperature in New Zealand lakes. He also investigated the use of spatially resolved statistical techniques for comparing satellite estimated and 3-D simulated water quality and temperature.

Mathew’s current area of research includes spatially explicit catchment modelling, ecologically coupled hydrodynamic modelling of lakes, water quality in relation to GIS, and the remote sensing of water quality.

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Dr Lars Brabyn - Senior Lecturer in GIS, University of Waikato

Lars Brabyn is a senior lecturer in Geography at the University of Waikato specialising in GIS analysis and remote sensing. Over the years he has supervised many brilliant students who have made major contribution to remote sensing techniques and innovative applications.