History | Curtin’s Remote Sensing & Satellite Research Group


RSSRG history in a nutshell….

This section will come soon… 

… and here with many more details:

Remote sensing research commenced after a 3 month visit in 1976 that Merv Lynch made to University of Lancaster, UK to study acoustic sounding of the atmospheric boundary layer. Acoustic sounder could probe the vertical mixing of the planetary boundary layer. This topic was of interest to the WA State Government because of the potential degradation of air quality in regions of industrial development. The trapping of industrial emissions (for example, in industrial areas such as Kwinana) is of concern particularly when the nocturnal boundary layer forms and “traps” the emissions in the boundary layer.

A portable (trailer mounted) acoustic sounder of impressive capability (57 paging projector horns of 24 watt each), funded by the WA Dept. of Conservation and Environment  (DEC) was designed and built in the Department of Applied Physics at Curtin with the able assistance of Dr Nigel Holmes who returned to Australia after completing a postdoc at University of Lancaster. The unit generated a 1500 W  (140 db) acoustic beam from the array which could detect the subsidence inversion at heights of up to 3 km. Characterisation of the boundary layer dynamics over the annual cycle was undertaken at future industrial development sites well to the north of Perth and as far south as Bunbury. Sea breeze structure and the turbulence in the sea breeze head were also impressively imaged by the acoustic sounder. Ross Bradford, the first RSSRG graduate student completed his MSc working on the acoustic sounder program.  

A follow-on development was the construction of a ruby laser based Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) instrument.  Lynch had spent a sabbatical year working at NOAA ERL in Boulder CO, in 1980-81 working on a LIDAR project under a team headed Dr Vernon Derr.  This included studies (with LiDAR and numerical models) near Boise, Idaho of a smoke plume impacting a Gaussian-shaped hill! 

During this 1980-81 sabbatical Lynch visited his former contact William Smith, Professor of Meteorology, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Among other matter an arrangement was reached to invite Dr Paul Menzel from SSEC / NOAA NESDIS / CIMSS to WAIT under the Haydn Williams Fellowship scheme. This visit, co-sponsored by Dr Ray Perry (Chief) and Dr Frank Honey of CSIRO Exploration and Mining (Perth) took place in 1982. It was the commencement of a long and beneficial relationship between RSSRG and SSEC/ CIMSS with major benefits over the intervening years, particularly to Curtin PhD and UG students [Paul van Delst (dec.), Nick Bower, Liam Gumley, Jason Li, Mark Grey, Helen Chedzey, Brian Osborne, Jim Davies, Geoff Cureton], who have enjoyed extended visits, financial support, scholarships and, in a number of cases, employment as research scientists at SSEC/UW.   

The initial laser acquired by WAIT for use in the original LiDAR was sourced from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO; now DSTG), Salisbury, SA. A Bofor gun mount was acquired from a Defence in Byford, WA. The laser together with a 25 cm diameter telescope and an appropriate optical filter,  detector (photomultiplier tube), linear amplifier, a high speed digitiser and a Digital Equipment Corporation mini-computer. The gun mount with the LIDAR was fitted to a trailer and the laser high voltage power supply plus signal processing instrumentation, the computer and the associated data processing was performed in a second trailer.  The laser was replaced by a more capable (higher power and 10 ppm) Quentron Optics frequency-doubled Nd:YAG laser operating at 532 nm.

The LiDAR was initially deployed to study of smoke stack plumes in the Kwinana region (particularly fumigation events) under the Kwinana Air Modelling Study (KAMS) funded by DEC. Subsequently, it was deployed with funding from the Bureau of Meteorology (Head Office) to measure aerosol concentration in the stratosphere to correct-ground level measurements of stratospheric ozone undertaken at Perth Airport. The southern hemisphere “ozone hole” was the focus. This required a modification of the LIDAR to photon counting mode with 1 km range bins up to ~ 35 km altitude.  These developments were ably supported by Dr Nigel Homes, Dr Greg Allen and Dr Stuart Young who took up a postdoc at WAIT following his PhD research in collaboration with Dr Martin Platt, CSIRO, Aspendale, VIC. 

In 1986-87 DSTO supported series of four expeditions to Cowley Beach, near Innisvale, Qld to measure atmospheric optical backscatter and extinction coefficients with the LiDAR in order to tune algorithms in the LOWTRAN atmospheric transmittance code to local conditions. Jim Davies and Liam Gumley were closely involved in the Qld experiments along with Dr Dean Cutten, DSTO, Salisbury (now Elizabeth). Davies and Gumley now are both at the Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA (SSEC/UW).

In 1988 Lynch undertook a sabbatical year at the SSEC/CIMSS/UW. Liam Gumley also travelled to SSEC and undertook an MS in the Department of Atmopsheric and Ocean Sciences.  Lynch worked with Prof Bill Smith, Dr Paul Menzel, Dr Hank Revercomb and Dr Bob Knuteson with a focus on atmospheric research. He commenced working with an instrument, the High Resolution Interferometer Sounder (HIS), an accurately calibrated high resolution infrared Michelson interferometer. This instrument was normally flown in the ER2 research aircraft at ~ 20 km altitude.

Having worked in the boundary layer Lynch recommended turning the EARI instrument on its back and pointing it upward so as to observe the thermodynamic structure of the lower atmosphere. Results were impressive! Funding was raised from the US Navy Labs, Monterey (Dr Gordon Little, formerly of NOAA ERL, Boulder) to conduct a study of the boundary layer using the AERI and a number of other ground-based profiling sensors as well as generating thermodynamic profiles from NOAA 6 satellite using the on-board HIRS infrared and MSU microwave sounders (see Smith et al 1990). 

These interactions and the visits to Curtin by Dr Paul Menzel led to a long and productive relationship between SSEC / NOAA NESDIS/ CIMSS (Wisconsin) and RSSRG that was covered by a formal MOU. The upward viewing instrument, renamed the Atmospheric Emitted Radiation Interferometer (AERI), became the core sensor in the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific region Atmospheric Radiation Monitoring (ARM) project. Paul van Delst (dec.) and Nick Bower who completed their PhDs with Curtin while working on collaborative applications of the AERI at SSEC/ Univ of Wisconsin, Madision.    

The exposure to high spectral resolution interferometry and high resolution atmospheric radiative transfer code (FASCODE) was to have long term impact with RSSRG. It led to Lynch later developing RSSRG’s interest in hyperspectral sensors and hyperspectral radiative transfer code in the visible region of the spectrum. 

The year 1988 was also the year that the planning for facility instruments on the MODIS platform were being reviewed. In fact, SSEC/UW submitted its bid that proposed an IR interferometer as the high resolution infrared facility instrument. NASA launched the Mission to Planet Earth program with a major public relations exercise. Dr Graham Harris CSIRO and Merv Lynch attended as the Australian representatives.  Subsequently Dr Dixon Bultler, NASA invited Lynch to serve on the NASA Instrument Panel to contribute the two-week review that was charged with selecting the facility instruments that were to be supported under the NASA Mission to Planet Earth Program. 

In Perth, during the 1980-81, Dr Frank Honey CSIRO Exploration and Mining, Floreat, initiated the reception of NOAA AVHRR polar orbiter data stream using a hand steered 5 m dish  constructed in the WAIT Engineering Workshops. At CSIRO Mike Carlton, Peter Hick, Peter Tapley and Nick Andronis provided critical technical and software support for the ground station development.  At Curtin, two students, Len van Burgel and Ron Hille, took their turn at data capture to download data sets for researching satellite observation of tropical cyclones. Len, then an employee of the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) commended an MSc part-time with RSSRG using primarily data from the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) sensor that was included in the NOAA polar orbiter satellite series L-band transmission. Dr John Le Marshall from BoM (Head Office, Melb.) was co-superviser.  Ron Hille, at the time a Telecom employee, asa result of his experience, entered the BoM training course and became a qualified meteorologist attached to the Perth Office.

Dr Fred Prata From Oxford, UK) and Dr John Wells joined a 3-year ARC funded project (CI Lynch) to work on tropical cyclones and other marine and terrestrial projects requiring algorithm development and product validation.  At the completion of the 3-year ARC project Prata joined CSIRO Exploration and Mining to head the remote sensing initiative.

SeaWiFS satellite was launched by the USA and operated from September 1997 to December 2010. Lynch was licensed to decrypt the data for studying regional ocean colour research and for validation of chlorophyll derived products. The 36-spectral band MODIS satellite Terra finally was launched 1999 and Aqua in 2002 provided a range of more sophisticated products related to the ocean, land and atmosphere. Of prime importance was the understanding atmosphere’s properties (scattering and absorption) for extracting ocean colour information was recognised. RSSRG became a member of the NASA AERONET project and installed and operated a solar photometer for AERONET at an elevated location on the western end of Rottnest Island. 

In 1987 the WA Satellite Technology and Applications Consortium (WASTAC) was formed as a joint venture with a Deed covering the L-band reception from polar orbiting satellites including SeaWiFS and NOAA ANHRR. Subsequently, a further JV was created to covered, the X-band Deed, to cover the reception of X-band satellite data – primarily MODIS Terra and Aqua.  Partners in WASTAC were three Federal agencies CSIRO, BoM and GA and locally Landgate, Curtin University and Murdoch University. All data collected by WASTAC has been archived.  WASTAC was able to downlink direct readout data from AVHRR, SeaWiFs and MODIS using L-band and X-Band facilities. Several RSSRG PhD candidates Jim Davies, Peter Fearns, Andrew Rodger, Leon Majewski, Wojciech Klonowski, Mark Broomhall, Helen Chedzey, Matthew Slivkoff, Mark Grey and Alan Pearce undertook research using SeaWiFS and / or MODIS data sets.  

Since those early days when RSSRG was being established there have been some major initiatives in which RSSRG has been a significant participant. These include, the Hillarys Transect (1996-1998) cruises, the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Satellite Systems (1998 – 2003), the CRC for Spatial Information (2003 – 2007), NCRIS TERN (2010 – 2013) as the Perth Node of AusCover, CRC CARE (2009 – 2015).

Two ARC LIEF Grants (led by Dr Jorg Hacker, Univ. of Flinders, SA) enabled RSSRG to initiate airborne hyperspectral sensing primarily of the coastal marine environment. Dr Hacker flew the hyperspectral instrumentation in the Flinder’s aircraft and RSSRG undertook the processing of the data (on iVEC supercomputer in the WA Techology Park) and generated the products. Much of this work was undertaken with funding that came from WA industry via the WA Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) led at that time by the very enthusiastic Dr Steve Blake (dec.).   Major projects included the Ningaloo Reef and Shark Bay hyperspectral surveys that revealed bathymetry, water column extinction and benthic cover. As was the case with RSSRG’s research validation campaigns were undertaken coincident with aircraft campaigns. 

Remote Sensing and Satellite Research Group, Curtin University, Bentley, WA 6102
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