A Brisbane university student has developed an award-winning mapping tool that could help preserve Australia’s most precious environmental resources, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Murray River.
Nineteen-year-old Alan Pearse’s invention, IDW-Plus, ‘plugs into’ the mapping platform ArcGIS – software developed by spatial technology giant Esri that hydrologists from around the world use to map water movement.
Mr Pearse said this allowed them to measure with unprecedented accuracy how rainwater travels through areas such as towns and farmland to rivers and lakes, and what chemicals and nutrients are accumulated along the way.
“Our past methods assumed that each section of land in a catchment contributed equally to the body of water at the end, but this isn’t the case,” Mr Pearse said.
“Some land may have more water pass through, or be closer to a stream where more water is likely to collect and reach the end of the line. These areas, therefore, have a greater impact.
“IDW-Plus takes factors like these into account and gives us a far better understanding of what is ending up in our lakes and rivers, and eventually in our oceans.
“It also performs these calculations in a fraction of the time it took in the past – in hours compared to weeks.”
With fertiliser runoff the leading cause of the algal blooms that poison the mighty Murray and contribute the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, IDW-Plus could impact how we manage the land surrounding Australia’s natural resources.
“The knowledge we can gain from using this tool will hopefully lead to better, more well-informed decisions about development, land use and where to focus our efforts on restoration and management,” Mr Pearse said.
This concern for the environment’s future was a key motivator for the third-year Queensland University of Technology student in his work on the project.
“I believe nature is more beautiful when pristine, and has a value worth protecting,” Mr Pearse said. “We should strive to live in harmony with the environment and the other organisms in it.”
The toolkit has already gained traction overseas, with United States Geological Survey hydrologists using it to study how natural hazards threaten America’s water resources, while the US Department of Agriculture has hosted IDW-Plus on its website for scientists to download and use.
Now Esri Australia has awarded Mr Pearse the 2017 Australian Esri Young Scholars Award, which allowed him to showcase IDW-Plus at the world’s largest spatial technology conference – the Esri User Conference – in California this month (July).
Esri Australia Managing Director Brett Bundock said he was excited to see how Mr Pearse drew on spatial thinking and technology to solve a real-world issue.
“Mr Pearse’s work exemplifies the spirit of the Young Scholar award, which enables our tomorrow’s leaders to use spatial technology to deliver data-driven solutions,” Mr Bundock said.
“And with the demand for geospatial disciplines within Australian universities growing, it is rewarding to see ArcGIS adapted to deliver for the next generation of users.”
For more information on the Esri Young Scholars Award, visit https://esriaustralia.com.au/