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Sky-high spy on micro soil dwellers

soil-agriculture-land

Using satellites to detect micro-organisms in the soil scored Anna Reboldi the MLA Award at this week’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, announced at the Canberra ABARES Outlook.

She is using satellite imagery to detect biological activity in soil crusts, communities of small organisms like cyanobacteria, lichen and mosses that live in the top few millimetres of soil.

Anna Reboldi
Anna Reboldi

“They’re very important because they recycle nutrients from the atmosphere and from organic matter back into the soil,” she said. “They provide nutrients for the plants and pastures for livestock. They also have really important roles for hydrology.”

A research officer at the Australian National University, she said her work is theoretical but has a tangible outcome of producing maps that can be fed back into farm productivity and global carbon emissions.

Biological soil crusts look the same as bare soil but immediately after rain, they light up as a brown-green colour that can be seen in satellite imagery, she said. “The advance in technology — now we have high temporal resolution satellites right over Australia give us images every 10 minutes. We’ll be able to pick up that signal of the crust reactivating after rainfall.”

Anna found a passion for sustainable land and soil management after moving to Australia from Italy eight years ago. “I feel so privileged about having had this chance, I don’t want to waste it. I really wanted to give back to Australia because it’s been really kind to me. I’ve had so many opportunities.”

Anna also loves research in food security, and hopes to one day work with a group like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.