Nicolás Younes Cardenas sees opportunities where others would see mountains of data and confusing formulas. The PhD student from Ecuador is undertaking long-term monitoring of mangrove forests. He is using significant amounts of data to find insights into the important ecosystems.
“The opportunity presented itself for a PhD project and I just pushed the opportunity to the limit,” he says. “The study is on the mangroves, but what I’m most interested in is using remote sensing to study environmental process. I use satellite images to see what is happening on vegetation.”
Nicolás first came to Australia in 2013 with his wife, Estefania. They both studied Master’s degrees at JCU in Townsville, before returning to Ecuador. In 2016, Nicolás grabbed the opportunity to do a PhD at JCU in Cairns.
“The resources here are fabulous,” he says. “I didn’t know JCU had a supercomputer that’s used for genetics, maths and now, remote sensing. I have a space on it to work on my project, which is great.”
Nicolás analyses satellite images to see how mangroves have changed over the last 30 years. He examines how mangroves have coped with cyclones, sea-level rise and global warming, and how mangroves adapt to new conditions.
“Remote sensing brings so many opportunities,” Nicolás says. “We can study every single place on Earth because of satellites. In this case, I’m studying mangroves. Amazing things can be done with remote sensing. We get so much free and open information that it’s almost ridiculous. There is so much data and we just have to use it.”
While it can be tough being on the other side of the globe from his home country, Nicolás says he is making the most of living in Australia. He has settled into the close-knit postgraduate community and is enjoying the lifestyle and people of Cairns.
“The weather and the overall environment is quite different compared to where I come from,” he says. “Things are very easy here. I guess that’s why people are so relaxed. In Cairns, the postgraduate community is quite close. There are people from everywhere doing different things and we know about each other’s work. It is a community within the University.”
When Nicolás needs a break from his study, he likes to ride the mountain bike tracks behind the Smithfield campus, in Cairns. As well as giving him the chance to use a world-class facility, he also gets to meet other avid bike riders.
“Being so close to world-class mountain bike tracks and being able to access them any day of the year makes the campus awesome,” he says. “I will go and have a ride and meet people who also use the tracks and they’re great. Cairns is a wonderful place to live in.”
The warm and welcoming environment at JCU makes it easy for new students to settle in. Nicolás advises new students to reach out and ask questions because someone is always willing to step up and offer help.
“Don’t be shy, talk to other students,” he says. “If you talk to the people who have already gone through the process, whether that’s getting a house or finding your way around the campus, they will give you advice based on experience. You’d be amazed at how many small tips can save you a lot of time.”