New vegetation map to help Victoria manage bushfires and floods

The Monash Vegetation Map around Mornington. The algorithms behind the map have detected different types of vegetation including vines (purple), gum trees (dark green), pastures and grassland (light green) and some areas featuring crops (orange).

  • Monash University researchers have developed Australia’s first high-resolution vegetation map, in this instance focused on the state of Victoria.
  • This map has the potential to assist with fire prevention, agricultural planning, flood modelling, pollution management, and mine site monitoring and rehabilitation.
  • Data is sourced from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite, and comprises more than 4300 images.

On the back of one of the most devastating bushfire periods in history, Australia’s first high-resolution vegetation map of Victoria, produced by Monash University, could help authorities manage future outbreaks and improve agricultural planning.

Researchers at Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology have used the most established data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite to develop the first land-cover map of Victoria at 10m spatial resolution.

This the most detailed map of its kind produced in Australia, and is the result of the analysis of more than 4300 satellite images.

Potential high-value applications of these new maps include fire prevention, agricultural planning, flood modelling, pollution management, and mining site monitoring and rehabilitation.

Victoria is the first state or territory in Australia to have access to this revolutionary image map, which is 25 times finer and more detailed than those currently produced by the Australian government.

“Earth observation satellites have for years provided us with information about the status of large-scale agricultural, environmental and climate problems to inform our decisions. But the pictures we used to see were largely static and unreliable,” said Dr François Petitjean, project lead and senior research fellow from the University’s Faculty of Information Technology.

“We’re entering a new era in Earth observation, with latest-generation satellites starting to produce images of Earth frequently, in high resolution, and at no charge to end users.

“We now have an unprecedented opportunity to monitor the dynamics of our region – and country – over time, and establish a course of action that reflects the changing nature of the environment.”

This vegetation map of Victoria can be applied to several scenarios, including:

  • Fire management: where it’s critical to know the condition of trees and grasslands (in particular, their vegetation water content and biomass), in order to derive high-quality fuel-load maps that can be used to model how bushfires spread and how prescribed burns can be conducted.
  • Agricultural planning: having knowledge of the type of crops and stress over the territory is critical to optimise irrigation and use of pesticides/herbicides, or to forecast potential exports through yield estimates.
  • Flood management: predicting the water levels after a rain event requires to precisely know how much of the rain is absorbed by the soil, which is essentially dictated by the type of vegetation.
  • Pollution management: mapping the type of privately and publically owned vegetation is essential for monitoring the different types of pollutions that a city can safely absorb.
  • Mining site monitoring and rehabilitation: satellite images can help monitor abnormal vegetation growth.

“This very colourful map shows great potential for refined modelling of the state’s vegetation, highlighting possible improvements that may be required. We’re currently looking into how we can replicate this for other states and territories in Australia,” Dr Petitjean said.

The Victorian vegetation map is now available online at https://www.monash.edu/it/vegmap

The research team consists of Dr Francois Petitjean, Dr Charlotte Pelletier, Zehui Ji and Professor Geoff Webb (Monash University); Dr Kathryn Sheffield and Dr Elizabeth Morse-McNabb (Agriculture Victoria); and Oliver Hagolle (CNES/French Space Agency).