Visiting Scientist Report

Bill Emery

 

I am on a year's sabbatical at CSIRO in Hobart working with Ian Barton and many others here at the lab. During my stay Ian and the EOC have arranged for me to visit various remote sensing activities in Australia. I have suggested to David Jupp that I provide a brief report on each visit. The first of these visits to Perth was completed earlier this week. Here is the first of my reports. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions for future visits.

Bill Emery, 17 Nov 1997.


I have always wanted to visit Perth as I have known Merv Lynch for a number of years. I have met him twice during visits to the University of Wisconsin and he has always invited me to visit his group in Perth. Having been involved in growing satellite receiving stations from the ground up I found I had a lot in common with Merv. Thus, when I started to arrange for my visits to remote sensing groups in Australia, I made it the first priority.

We arrived in Perth on Nov. 9 and made first contact with Merv on Nov. 10. It had been arranged for me to give a seminar at the Leeuwin Centre on Wednesday afternoon. Merv suggested that I visit him at Curtin on Monday afternoon which I did. He was busy on Tuesday and thus arranged to meet on Wednesday again at Curtin. I spent much of Wednesday discussing data processing with a group that included Chris Rathbone from CSIRO/Hobart, William Skirving from Townsville, Jim and Ron from Perth. It was a very interesting discussion that was intended to coordinate the reception, processing and distribution of SEAWIFs data but touched on a number of other topics.

I gave my seminar on Wednesday at 5 pm and then a small group went out for dinner. I had some very good interactions with people both at the seminar and at the dinner. I found people very active and interested in upgrading their capabilities. I was impressed that a group came together to coordinate activities in the use of SEAWIFs and AVHRR data. This type of coordination would not happen in the US nor in most of the other countries involved with AVHRR and SEAWIFS data. I think it is an advantage in Australia which has a relatively small number of people involved in remote sensing.

The Perth area has a number of real strengths in remote sensing. First, is Merv and his research group. This is a long standing activity which contributes an important component of new people in the form of graduate students. This critical component of the remote sensing community is needed to keep the research activities growing with new ideas. Another important component of Perth's remote sensing is the Leeuwin Centre This is a truly unique facility that shows considerable foresight. Other regions would benefit greatly from a similar center. It is nice to see groups applying remote sensing data to practical problems and it is even better to see these groups interacting with each other. DOLA and other parts of the Leeuwin Centre activities should continue to grow by finding new and fruitful applications for satellite data. The last strength in Perth's remote sensing is the link to CSIRO. While Alan Pierce's research activities may be clearly unique within his own lab they are very complimentary to the general remote sensing activities in Perth. It is important for the remote sensing activities to have a strong link to the basic research of CSIRO.

This unique blend of individual talents and the collaborative research activities is both Perth's greatest strength and its main weakness. This is due to the very singular nature of most of these components. Merv Lynch is very unique as he is the primary university researcher involved with the Leeuwin Centre. His students work at both the Leeuwin Centre and Curtin University. They participate in research work done at both sites and share their own research with people at both sites. While I have been very impressed with all that Merv manages to do and the large number of students he is able to supervise, I am concerned about the conditions at Curtin University and indeed at all Australian universities in general. Remote sensing is such a fledgling research activity that it requires separate fostering if it is to grow. I am sure that there are no government plans to destroy remote sensing in Perth but they will accomplish this goal anyway if Merv is overloaded with university work that detracts from his research focus. This also goes for teaching. If Merv is forced by the university to teach undergraduates with no teaching assistants it will greatly burden him and impact on this remote sensing research and graduate education activities. It should also be recognized that Merv will one day retire (it is very hard to think of that now). This will open a rather large hole in the remote sensing in Perth. Perhaps some plans might be formulated now to compensate for this future change.

It should also be recognized that Merv makes a unique contribution to the remote sensing activities as he has very wide range of interests in various fields of remote sensing. There are few other individuals that are as interested in correctly computing skin SST as they are providing atmospheric corrections to ocean color imagery. He is also interested in land surface remote sensing and atmospheric property profiling. This wide range of interests is manifested in the diverse topics researched by his graduate students. During their studies they interact with the rest of the remote sensing practitioners and upon graduation they become a new resource of researchers actively pursuing remote sensing applications. It is not at all clear that one could find a replacement for Merv who would cover such a wide range of disciplines.

As Merv is to the university so Alan Pierce is to basic ocean research and the involvement of CSIRO. By some miracle Alan is located at CSIRO in Perth and is working on projects that are very relevant to the work at Leeuwin and Curtin (in fact they are joint projects). It is not at all clear that when Alan retires there will be anybody at CSIRO in Perth to take his place. This would be unfortunate if the remote sensing activity was completely removed from CSIRO/Perth. Again this collaboration is very important and it will hopefully continue in some form. At the Leeuwin Centre there are a number of folks that are closely tied to the remote sensing activities. This center has clearly been a place to employ many of Merv's students and former co-workers. Still the center is not self sustaining. If the Curtin and CSIRO connections were severed it would have a very negative impact on the Leuwin Centre. It is difficult to plan for these kinds of changes but at the same it is important to recognize the situation, accept these frailties and make some type of contingency plan when something does go wrong.

Specifically the strengths of the Leeuwin Centre appear to be its ability to apply the routinely available AVHRR and other data to commercially significant activities such as mapping bush fires and tracking western Australia vegetation. This mode of project development parallels the data-system development in Europe at the Center for Earth Observations (CEO) at the Joint Research Center (JRC) in Ispra, Italy. Here they have decided that they will not develop a large data system with no users as they have done in the US but they will rather develop a system to serve a particular application. Each application must have a certain number of customers that pay some limited amount for the project to go forward. One of their projects is also mapping forest fires. The US is now trying to develop similar activities in the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIPs) which will also focus on particular applications.

It is also interesting to me how the reception of AVHRR data is handled in Perth. By historical precedent the antenna is located at Curtin University. The data are then transferred to the Met. Office where they are processed and archived. Other groups get their data from the Met. Office rather than from Curtin. This optimizes the processing of AVHRR data since the responsibilities are distributed across a number of groups rather than concentrated in a single group. This level of collaboration is again quite unique.

I think the future challenge for Perth's remote sensing community is to sustain the level of collaboration among agencies and individuals both local and federal. I don't see any replacements for Merv Lynch or Alan Pierce in the near future and think that the community should give this some consideration. The status quo is great but the situation is quite fragile. For now the remote sensing activities should be supported in every way possible. In the future it may become necessary to make some fundamental changes as people retire or move away.


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