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Tropical Futures: A Tropical Data Hub

Tropical Futures: A Tropical Data Hub

Read the Tropical Data Hub: Data North discussion paper!

Practical implementations of distributed data sharing, processing and remote collaboration will increasingly become an essential requirement for tropical research and development and innovation.  Multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary collaborations are also essential in order to address major tropical science issues related to domains such as health, key industries like mining, environment, climate change, and more.

Project Plan

A detailed business plan and longer-term business strategy for the tropical data hub will be presented to QCIF within three months of commencement of the project.  Initial activity will entail activity such as staff hiring, requirements gathering, systems prototyping and relationship building.  Outlined below is the general approach that will be undertaken.  Importantly best practice adaptive software development methodologies will be used to project manage the software builds.

The development of the QCIF Tropical Data Hub will run with two parallel activities.

  1. The QCIF supported Data Portal, and
  2. Building linkages between cognate organisations with interests and capacities in tropical data.

The cooperative framework on tropical science, knowledge and innovation (SKI) is a 10 year agreement between the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia governments to harness and promote Australia's existing and emerging strengths in tropical science, knowledge and innovation (Tropical Futures Australia).  Tropical SKI is also a major Queensland R&D priority outlined in the QTropics strategy. QCIF funding for this project will specifically provide e-Research platforms to leverage these various Tropical strategies by establishing a long-term data hub and portal for tropical data sets and research collaboration.

The concept of a tropical data portal is intended to be a complement to existing data repositories and stores and be a banner under which a variety of state, commonwealth and university research programs with interests in the tropics can be concentrated.  In addition the hub will provide a data hosting capacity in order to host (using a combination of ARCS, QCIF and JCU infrastructure) significant national and international data sets.  As well as hosting and exposing data a key functionality of the portal will be data searching (including via GIS methods) across disparate data sets.

Our vision is a Tropical Hub that will be the centre of a range of eResearch services and outputs from organisations such as ANDS, ARCS and various MARCS and Universities involved in tropical R&D.

The Tropical Hub is proposed as an ‘open’ portal, with contributors submitting data sets and other content in an open and collaborative way.  Over time it is expected that the Hub will incorporate elements that go beyond data, and move into aspects such as public data dissemination, research collaboration support, information processing etc.  To quote from Prof. Ron Sandland, Chair of ANDS in a recent ANDS Newsletter:

“As an example of the constructive input received, I’d like to cite that of tropical research data.  A powerful suggestion came form the tropical institutions for an integrated view of tropical research data, one which could be taken across institutions rather than across research disciplines.  And rather than different sets of data held by research groups from individual institutions within the tropics.  This was a case of the true spirit of ANDS being reflected back to us.”

Importance to Government and Industry

“Grand Challenges” facing governments today are global and involve a range of complex issues including health, climate change and global warming, the environment, the spread and containment of infectious disease, to name but a few!  In addressing issues such as environmental sustainability, impacts of climate change, industry and infrastructure, health and bio-security, there is increasing acknowledgement of the practical role that science, technology, information and innovation can play.  For example,

  • Both communities and governments want to be warned of major environmental changes and, if the environment is under threat, want to know how to respond. For example, the costs of inundation and managed retreat when storm surges occur are significant. The cost of maintaining shoreline against erosion is also significant.
  • As rapid population growth and economic development intensify, research has become essential to provide the indicators to assess the stresses human beings and climate are placing on the biosphere and ecosystems. For example, that the Great Barrier Reef's contribution to the economy is estimated to be $5 billion p.a., but could be threatened by coral bleaching events associated with ocean warming, worsening impacts of flooding, tropical cyclones and unseasonable.

R&D's role in addressing the underlying "grand challenge" issues around themes such as Ecosystems, Conservation and Climate Change is therefore compelling for both practical and economic reasons.

In the tropics, many of the grand challenge issues such as climate change eco-systems, health, etc. have are intensified. The tropics currently occupy approximately forty percent of the earth's land surface and are home to almost half of the world’s human population and account for more than 80% of the earths biodiversity. The 2009 review by Dr Joanne Isaac and Professor Steve Turton (Expansion of the Tropics: Evidence and Implications) posits that climate change will be responsible for further expansion of the earth’s tropical zone.

Beta Website


Daintree Rainforest Observatory

The Daintree Rainforest Observatory (DRO) project aims to build a research station in the Daintree rainforest, extending the facilities at The Australian Canopy Crane Research Station at Cape Tribulation. The eResearch Centre will be helping to build a wireless sensor network which will allow automated monitoring of environmental factors.

The World Heritage listed Daintree rainforest is the largest area of lowland rainforest in Australia and is home to a substantial proportion of Australia’s biodiversity. It is one of the best-known natural laboratories in the world for understanding the impacts of global environmental change due to the scientific research conducted there by the Far North Queensland research community. Furthermore the spectacular scenery and high biodiversity attracts around half a million national and international tourists each year.

James Cook University (JCU) has operated The Australian Canopy Crane Research Station (ACCRS) at Cape Tribulation, within the Daintree, for more than a decade. The opportunity now exists to maximise the physical and biological attributes of the ACCRS site to develop a highly visible, broad-spectrum, rainforest-focused research station which complements the internationally recognised reef-focused JCU Orpheus Island Research Station.

The Daintree Rainforest Observatory (DRO), a high profile education and research centre, will enable, support and showcase the best in Australian environmental and sustainability science. It will provide research opportunities unmatched anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, on national to local scales, and unbroken access from the atmosphere through the canopy and down to the soil. Integrated into JCU’s teaching program, it will provide an unforgettable hands-on field experience for Australian and International researchers and students.

eResearch JCU is participating in a multi-million dollar extension to the DRO and implementing a comprehensive environmental monitoring system.  The technologies will be based on the Smart Environmental Monitoring and Analysis Technologies (SEMAT) project.  More information regarding this project will be posted at a later date.

Smart Environment Monitoring & Analysis Technologies (SEMAT)

Smart Environment Monitoring & Analysis Technologies (SEMAT)

This project seeks to develop new, commercially-focused technologies in wireless sensor networks. SEMAT is funded in part by the Queensland Government National and International Research Alliance Program (NIRAP).


The Smart Environment Monitoring and Analysis Technologies (SEMAT) project is largely driven by the need to create a low cost intelligent sensor network system for monitoring aquatic and coastal environments, and importantly the analysis of that data into information which can be used for management and planning.  The specific goals for SEMAT are as follows:

1) Underwater wireless communications – As aquatic environments are remote and vast, it is not economically viable or practical to have sensors wired together.  Often in such an environment the positioning of the cables represents a significant practical problem.  The cable itself is also vulnerable to breakage or degradation over time.  (Read more.)

2) Short-range wireless and power transmission – Interconnecting cables for data communications and/or power in-situ is complex in a marine environment.  SEMAT aims to develop technologies whereby neighboring cables can be connected underwater and inductive methods used transfer power and data between nodes.  (Read more.)

3) Plug and Play – A major problem facing the deployment of wireless sensor networks is the disparate technologies used as equipment must be combined from different manufacturers.  Even the simple case of adding a new type of sensor usually involves reconfiguring the entire system so that the end user can view the sensor’s output.  SEMAT will use SAL to allow new equipment to be added to the network such that it is instantly recognized and configured for use.  This is analogous to plugging in a new peripheral device for a computer such as a printer or mouse, which the operating system automatically detects and allows instant use.  Making a wireless sensor network plug and play removes much of the technical overhead for managing the network by novices.  (Read more.)

4) Minimal deployment expertise – SEMAT will offer end users a complete package.  The end user will only need to choose what sensors they require and SEMAT will auto-configure the necessary parameters.  Essentially once deployed, the user could take a laptop down to the beach (for example) and can begin to view the sensed data.  (Read more.)

5) Near real time analysis tools – SEMAT will provide software tools that allow data to be streamed in near real-time from sensors.  Users will have the ability to buffer large amounts of data and sift through the data at hand using the RBNB Data Turbine.  Data collected is put into a format that is recognised by standards bodies (i.e., Sensor Web Enablement) and therefore can be imported into sophisticated data modeling and visualisation tools.  (Read more.)

6) Intelligent sensors – Sensor nodes in SEMAT will have a level of intelligence in that they have two way communications with each other.  This will allow sensors to have a degree of autonomy from the end user such that if there is a sudden change in a condition which affects the phenomena under study, then sensor nodes can communicate with each other to change their parameters to better study the changes in the environment.  For example, if one set of sensors detects that significant rainfall is occurring, it might communicate with the salinity sensor to increase its sensing rate from daily to hourly.  There are almost limitless uses for such intelligence.  (Read more.)

Click here to view a video presentation by Associate Professor Ron Johnstone about SEMAT and the role of wireless sensor networks in the marine environment.


SEMAT draws on a large multidisciplinary team that spans both academia and industry.

Deployment Information

SEMAT is deploying prototype systems to test developed technologies in the field using real-world scientific modelling applications.  SEMAT is being trialled in the following locations:

Prototype Buoys

The development of SEMAT technologies proceeds in a series of stages as the system is refined.  The following prototypes have been developed:

The majority of the prototype equipment is by off the shelf purchases to prove the feasibility of the commodity-based approach. A complete list of vendors can be found here.


A list of SEMAT-related publications can be found here.

University of QueenslandDHI Politecnico di Milano ARC Research Network on Intelligent Sensors, Sensor Networks and Information Processing Torino Wireless JCU Logo QCIF Logo

The Wallace Initiative

The Wallace Initiative

Task: to provide a website where interested parties can access biodiversity and climate data both current and predicted with respect to various global climate models (GCMs) and C02 emission scenarios. The data is to be displayed graphically as an overlay on google maps as well as being available for download from the site. There are approximately 350,000 datasets on the site.

As it currently stands, the website is a prototype/proof of concept demonstration site; it shows climate predictions across 19 climate variables for four timelines, seven GCMs and six emission scenarios as well as biodiversity densities for 50,000 species, across four timelines and two emission scenarios. This is expected to change with more GCMs being considered as well as increasing the number of species and climate variables. This will bring with it new challenges in terms of scale and also interface design.

Below are a few screen-shots from the site:





Previous projects

Archive of the previous projects that JCU eResearch has undertaken

The BigNet project focused on a developing a distributed wireless sensor network test bed.
CoastSAFE Alive
The eResearch Centre assisted CoastalCOMS to research and develop a digital asset management and compute workflow environment.
Collaborative Workspaces
Users need the ability to collaborate around the research processes they undertake. Having a common, collaborative workspace provides the ability to document, discuss, record, and share relevant information with colleagues.
Semantic Reef Project
The Semantic Reef project is an eco-informatics application that aims to combine multiple disparate environmental datasets to test ecological hypotheses and to derive information about environmental systems.
Sensor Network Management
The JCU eResearch team has been working intensively on developing technologies for long-range environmental sensor networks for monitoring marine ecosystems in tropical areas.
Tropical Queensland: Next-gen Water Monitoring
Designing and developing next-gen techniques for monitoring our water resources