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Ground cover

Landscape around Longreach, Queensland.

We measure and monitor ground cover across Queensland using satellite imagery. We look at pasture and litter cover relative to the levels of bare soil surface.

The imagery allows scientists to investigate spatial and temporal changes in ground cover—including green (i.e. photosynthetic vegetation), non-green (i.e. non-photosynthetic senesced dry vegetation and plant litter) and bare ground areas.

Ground cover information also helps land managers assess landscape condition.

Ground cover monitoring currently focuses on areas with low tree presence, complementing other studies that investigate changes in woody vegetation.

Recent and historical data on ground cover across Queensland is available for free on The Long Paddock website.

What does ground cover do?

Maintenance of ground cover is essential for sustainable production, especially in rangeland environments where rainfall is highly variable.

The level and type of ground cover is important for land management. For example dry grass is an important fuel load which can impact on fire intensity.

Ground cover also plays an important role in:

  • protecting valuable soil resources from wind erosion
  • nutrient cycling
  • maintaining biodiversity.

The amount and distribution of ground cover can change in response to climate, land or soil type and land management, especially grazing intensity from domestic livestock.

For example, above-average rainfall can result in above-average ground cover, which helps the soil resist erosion by minimising raindrop impact, improving water infiltration and reducing surface runoff.

How is ground cover data used?

Ground cover information is used by landholders, natural resource managers and government to improve land management. Monitoring changes in ground cover can help them:

  • understand the risks of wind and water erosion
  • identify areas of persistently low or high cover, and consider management responses
  • plan activities like stocking rates and fire management
  • target areas for recovery and monitor their progress.

How is ground cover measured?

Monitoring ground cover requires the integration of thousands of images, a high-performance computing facility and field data across the state. Scientists follow this basic process:

  1. Download Landsat imagery from the United States Geological Survey.
  2. Pre-process imagery to correct atmospheric and landscape effects as well as cloud contamination.
  3. Calibrate the imagery to extensive field measurement of ground cover—this produces objective and consistent ground cover information.
  4. Deliver maps of digital ground cover data to landholders, extension officers, private industry and government for a range of applications and purposes.

Contact us

For more information about ground cover, contact our Principal Scientist on

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last reviewed
14 October 2016
Last updated
28 October 2013
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