3 mins read 22 Sep 2020

Evaluating Water Quality with Space Technology

CSIRO and SmartSat CRC have teamed up to use satellite data to monitor Australia’s water quality in a new mission called AquaWatch.

The Goulburn River in Northern Victoria. Credit: CSIRO.

A 12-month scoping study for a mission called AquaWatch Australia has recently commenced. This study, run by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and the company SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), as well as several other Australian partners, aims to improve the maintenance and management of Australia’s water quality. AquaWatch is looking to complement existing systems and build a national water health monitoring scheme using a combination of ground-based sensors and satellite data.

Inland and coastal waters can be affected by events such as toxic algal blooms, contamination, and excess runoff from irrigation, which may significantly influence the health of the water. Real-time data about these events would support the management and monitoring of water quality.

“As well as monitoring the health of our inland rivers, dams and waterways, the project aims to grow the industry and create new job opportunities across the environmental data services sector, primary industry and agriculture and support drought resilience efforts,” Professor Koronios, the CEO of SmartSat, said.

Purpose of AquaWatch

A pond suffering from an algal bloom. Credit: CSIRO.

AquaWatch plans to use an extensive network of ground-based sensors throughout rivers and waterways in Australia, designed to work with purpose-made Earth observation satellites to deliver real-time updates, predictive analytics, and forecast warnings to water managers. 

CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation Director, Dr Alex Held, said that this early phase consultation will engage with collaborators from across industry, research, and government.

“We want to work directly with water agencies, community leaders and industry to better understand the challenges faced in water health monitoring,” Dr Held said. 

“Working with our project partners we will analyse the core elements required to establish an integrated space infrastructure network and create the domestic technical capability to build it. This will help inform the development of future local advanced manufacturing opportunities, water modelling and Earth observation data analysis and applications,” he said.

The Scoping Phase

In the scoping-phase of this mission, CSIRO and SmartSat will assess the current range of programs across Australia that monitor water quality, identifying areas where efficiency and technology can be improved through the use of space technologies. While some inland waterways are already tested on-site, and more are monitored with pre-existing data from space, this only covers 60% to 70% of Australia’s major bodies of water. The AquaWatch mission would fill this gap in the data. 

“The outcomes could lead to a step-change in Australia’s national water quality information delivery, supporting decision makers in water agencies, local communities, water utilities and commercial water users to provide safe drinking water and manage this precious natural resource,” said Dr Held. 

During the initial 12-month scoping phase of AquaWatch, CSIRO and SmartSat CRC are collaborating with partners from the research sector, government agencies and industry including the University of Queensland, UNSW Canberra, Curtin University, Frontier SI, Water Research Australia and SatDek. 

At the conclusion of the scoping phase, CSIRO and SmartSat CRC aim to have a framework developed for the future of the AquaWatch mission.