During 2008/09 the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) undertook a project to use computer analysis techniques to detect change at Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) from satellite imagery.

The project outcomes will assist with monitoring and managing this World Heritage listed subantarctic island group, which is located over 4000 kilometres south-west of Western Australia.

Why was the project undertaken?

The AAD is responsible for managing the HIMI Territory and the HIMI Marine Reserve. It does so in accordance with the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan 2005.

The management plan recognises the high costs and logistical constraints on access to HIMI, as well as the risk of visitors introducing non-native species, and promotes the use of remote techniques to monitor environmental change and to present the islands' World Heritage values.

Of course some types of research, monitoring and management activities might require on-site visits but remote monitoring, where practical, will help maintain the islands' virtually undisturbed state. Knowing what has changed before a research team travels the two weeks by ship will also provide for safer and more effective expedition planning.

What did the project involve?

The process is quite technical, but specialised computer software was used to analyse a cloud-free satellite image (or a mosaic of several images) to develop a digital representation of visible features, such as the coastline, glaciers, lagoons, large wildlife colonies and vegetation. When this same process is repeated for another satellite image taken on a different date, the two images can be compared to identify any changes in the features.

For example, climate warming in the region has resulted in the retreat of Heard Island's glaciers, exposing large areas of bare ground for colonisation by flora and fauna, and forming fresh water lagoons. It is expected the techniques for analysing satellite imagery developed through the project will allow some such changes to be detected and monitored from satellite imagery.

When available, this page will be updated with links to some of the products from the project, including satellite images, 3-Dimensional models, and fly-through animations. The data associated with the project will be managed by the Australian Antarctic Data Centre.