Australia invests in data science to improve natural resources management
As climate-related disruptions continue to weigh on Australia’s economic and environmental future, there’s a greater demand on the country’s research communities to identify smarter and more efficient data-driven approaches to natural resources management.
To ensure the resource-rich nation is able to sustain itself in the face of future uncertainties, the government is pouring investment into ways to mitigate risk and impact of the country’s resource industries.
The Morrison government this week announced that the University of Sydney has been allocated AU$3.9 million in Australian Research Council (ARC) funding to research the long-term impact of resource use on the country’s economy, society and the environment.
The grant will help fund the establishment of a AU$11 million Data Analytics for Resources and Environments Centre (Dare), enabling researchers to apply data science models against real-world challenges such as water storage, biodiversity loss and the extraction of mineral resources.
“The aim of DARE is to make the best possible evidence-based decisions in harnessing and stewarding the nation’s natural resources and environment. There has never been a better, or more important time, to rethink the way we do this,” said Professor Sally Cripps, who will lead the endeavour.
“We have seen some of the most challenging conditions in Australia with drought causing untold heartache for farmers and testing conditions for the management of water supplies everywhere.
“The management of all natural resources face the common central issue of how data is exploited to build predictive and integrated models which can be used to make economic and sustainable decisions in the face of high levels of uncertainty,” added Cripps, who is also the university’s Centre for Translational Data Science director.
In addition to improving the country’s natural resources management, researchers will help develop the necessary data science skills for Australia’s resource industries to ensure sustainable long-term use of the country’s natural resources.
Welcoming the research, University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said:
“The University of Sydney has long been committed to undertaking world-class research to support Australia’s resource sector.
“As an asset-rich nation, Australia continues to play a leading role in delivering the world’s essential resources, however, to maintain that position, it is important we invest in transformative technologies and collaborative research.”
He added that new approaches to data analysis will improve understanding of how to harness the country’s resources while mitigating risk and impact.
The ARC grant is also part of a broader AU$7.67 million investment, according to a press release by the University of Sydney, which will also fund a centre at the University of Adelaide that focuses on product quality and maximising resource recovery in the mining sector.
“We need to ensure that we are turning our research into real-world benefits because Australia’s world-leading research sector will be a key driver of jobs and productivity,” said Education Minister Dan Tehan.
“When we get collaboration between research and industry right, the benefits are unambiguous,” he added.
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan pointed out that revenue derived from Australia’s natural resources adds billions of dollars to federal coffers every year. The ARC grant, he said, would help keep the sector thriving through research and development.
“A key part of last year’s National Resources Statement was to better focus the sector’s innovation and R&D on long-term, sectoral growth. These new centres will dovetail in with those plans,” Canavan said.
“We are blessed with abundant, high-quality resources such as coal, iron ore and gas which return billions to our economy each year. Demand for the minerals that drive modern technologies, like lithium, rare earths, nickel and cobalt, is also surging,” he added.