Tackling the treacherous Northern Territory with GIS


Fire risks, feral animals and fracking are just a few environmental concerns that have hit the Northern Territory in recent weeks. While it may appear tranquil and picturesque from above, what’s happening on the ground in the Northern Territory is sometimes challenging.

The NT Government works hard to find, fight and monitor environmental issues every day, and one technical officer who utilizes a GIS (Geographic Information System) to tackle such issues is Kaitlyn Andrews.

Kaitlyn works in the Land Assessment branch of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the NT Government. The Department and tackles issues related to flora, fauna, and land development on a daily basis.

Fighting Flora and Fauna

“The Northern Territory is still very under developed and the country remains largely intact, however there are a number of environmental issues impacting the Territory,” says Kaitlyn. “The debate over burning frequency is very controversial, particularly in relation to control burns.”

Fires have become far more intense in the NT, particularly in the Darwin region and Batchelor, due to a widespread population of the invasive weed Gamba grass (also known as Andropogon Gayanus). “This is due to the massive fuel load the grass provides and the thick, tall tussocks (up to 6m) it grows in,” she says.

This flora issue is also causing fauna problems, with Kaitlyn reporting there has been a large-scale decline in native mammal populations, which they say could be down to fire and feral cats. “Feral animals and weeds are the focus of a lot of control and research products,” says Kaitlyn. “There is also a lot of interest in fracking in the Territory, which has brought about a government led enquiry into the safety and danger of fracking on the environment.”

With so many aspects of the environment in need of managing and monitoring, the right tools are essential to make sure jobs are executed as quickly and as efficiently as possible.


Putting GIS in the NT

As well as looking after the environment, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources focuses on providing development opportunities for land holders, which would be far harder without the use of geospatial technology.

“We try to minimise the amount of inappropriate land clearing and habitat destruction by providing them with suitability maps that show the most appropriate areas for development,” says Kaitlyn. “We use Mappt as a tool to help create suitability maps, and as such it helps to minimise the amount of inappropriate land clearing and habitat destruction throughout the Territory. Also, all the site information we gather during these surveys becomes publicly available, and can be used for any purpose.”

Mappt is an easy to use GIS (Geographic Information System) that allows its users to capture, edit, store, and share geospatial data offline with a mobile device. Kaitlyn and her team use Mappt on a Samsung tablet, which they load up with JP2 satellite imagery, access-related Shapefiles (roads, infrastructure, creeks and river systems) and any previous mapping in or near the area.

“We load all of this into Mappt and cache the Google imagery for the area, as we work in remote areas with no reception. This then becomes a really useful tool in site selection, identifying and navigating to variation in the landscape,” says Kaitlyn.

“The ruler tool is especially useful to see how far our traverse between sites will be, and the Jump To feature lets us find any pre-picked sites from the office.



“Sometimes we find tracks that are not on our road’s Shapefile or we create a new bush track, so we capture it using the tracking feature. Once back in the office we export the new Shapefiles in .csv format and load them into ArcGIS to use.”

The department also uses Mappt to conduct development assessments. These are generally one day outings that are spent working on a single property with observations made as they go. This work includes the use of the free draw tool, as well as creating polygons, lines and points, which the team creates seamlessly: “[Mappt] is very user friendly and even our least technologically experienced staff members have been able to navigate the program with ease.”

GPS Tracking

GPS Tracking

Points, Polylines & Polygons

Points, Polylines & Polygons

Rise of the Mapping Machines

As well as GIS, the NT Government are enlisting other technologies to improve and sustain the environment. They are beginning their first attempt at a Digital Soil Mapping Project, which will use the program ‘R’ to select sites in the field, and then model a digital soil map and possibly a suitability map. “In this instance, we would use Mappt on the tablet to flick between covariate layers (raster files that will be used to create the model) to see which are giving the best indications of change,” says Kaitlyn.

Furthermore, other branches including weeds and flora and fauna are considering the use of drone technology to capture geospatial information in areas previously inaccessible.

Geospatial technology has greatly advanced the ability and timeliness of the NT Government to produce products throughout many departments. “The accuracy of mapping products in our Department has increased significantly and we have been able to capture a lot of legacy data that was not being utilised, and will continue to do so into the future,” says Kaitlyn.

Okay NT, let’s see what else you’ve got.