Work led by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, to develop robust land degradation mapping methods adopted by the United Nations has been recognised by the international Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

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CSIRO received the inaugural 2019 GEO Sustainable Development Goals Award for Innovation during GEO Week 2019 in Canberra, a global meeting of more than 1100 delegates from government, business, non-profit and research agencies.

CSIRO's award-winning work is being used by more than 140 countries around the world to track and compare their progress in addressing land degradation, contributing to a unified, global view where previously there had been no consistent measure for reporting on factors like over-grazing, drought and contamination.

Creating a clearer picture of the scale of land degradation helps land managers make better decisions on how to address the problem.

The solution uses Earth observation technology, generated by satellite imaging, to map land degradation over time, and drew on a network of more than 80 expert contributors and reviewers to develop global standards and tools.

This rapid adoption is due in part to a collaboration between CSIRO and Conservation International, to make the satellite data and models accessible through an open-source software product called Trends.Earth.

Research scientist Dr Neil Sims, who led the CSIRO team, said that agencies need remote sensing tools and knowledge to understand what is going on in the landscape and to be able to report changes and implement management activities to address them.

"We developed techniques for measuring land cover change, land productivity and soil organic carbon stocks with a core focus of ensuring that all countries, at any level of capacity and technological development, could use them," said Dr Sims.

"We were engaged by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) because Australia is seen as a leader in Earth observation technologies and CSIRO has a strong ethos of collaboration."

CSIRO solves the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology, with the health and livelihood of more than 1.3 billion people around the world affected by land degradation.

This includes fostering resilient and valuable environments and building a secure region that helps safeguard people from risks such as natural disasters.

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  • Dead trees in water

    CSIRO’s award-winning work is being used by more than 140 countries to track and compare land degradation factors like over-grazing, drought and contamination.

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  • Three people on stage, one holding award

    Dr Neil Sims Research Scientist, CSIRO, receives the inaugural GEO Sustainable Development Goals Award for Innovation from Dr Argyro Kavvada, left, and Dr Gilberto Camara

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Gabby Russell

Communication Manager, Astronomy, Space and Supercomputing

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