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New partnership to monitor our most vital resource

07 October 2020

Aquawatch drone photo
The power of satellites to monitor and manage water quality is being trialled under AquaWatch Australia, a mission by SmartSatCRC and the CSIRO.

A combination of data from satellites and water testing could soon be used to monitor and manage water quality in Australia with a 12-month scoping study for the new technology underway.

The study is part of a mission called AquaWatch Australia which is currently being developed by the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, based at Lot Fourteen, and the CSIRO, Australia's national science agency.

Space is one of the high-value, high-growth focus sectors a Lot Fourteen, which is also home to the Australian Space Agency and space industry companies including Inovor Technologies, Myriota, Neumann Space, and SITAEL Australia. The Australian Space Discovery Centre and Mission Control Centre will open at Lot Fourteen in the first half of 2021.

AquaWatch aims to complement existing systems and build a comprehensive national monitoring system using an extensive network of ground-based sensors placed throughout Australia’s rivers and waterways.

These sensors would work together with purpose-designed Earth observation satellites to deliver real-time updates, predictive analytics and forecast warnings to water managers.

The mission will ultimately help address issues which adversely affect the health of Australia’s inland and coastal waters such as toxic algal blooms and excess runoff from irrigation.

SmartSat CEO Professor Andy Koronios said the AquaWatch scoping phase will include assessing the current range of water quality monitoring programs across Australia, and identifying opportunities to drive efficiencies, advancements and adoption of new space technology to safeguard our water resources.

“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 said. 

“We think the project has great potential to deliver two-fold benefits of improving water quality management as well as creating new skills and job opportunities in Australia across a range of industries.

“AquaWatch is a cornerstone of SmartSat’s research portfolio, which focuses on developing technologies to help solve some of Australia’s biggest challenges.”

Water testing
AquaWatch will help address issues affecting the health of Australia’s inland and coastal waters, such as toxic algal blooms and excess runoff from irrigation.

The SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre brings together over 100 national and international partners who have invested over $190 million, along with $55 million in Federal Government funding under its Cooperative Research Centres Program, in a $245 million research effort over seven years.

Space and hi-tech are two of the high-value focus industry sectors at Lot Fourteen, building on South Australia’s strengths in these sectors.

SmartSat is working closely with the Australian Space Agency to make a strong contribution to the Australian Government’s goal of tripling the size of the space sector to $12 billion and creating up to 20,000 jobs by 2030.

CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation Director Dr Alex Held said AquaWatch’s 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.

“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.”

AquaWatch also has potential to monitor coastal wetlands, aquaculture farms, riparian vegetation and terrestrial biodiversity, mine sites, mangroves and coral reef environments.

At the conclusion of the initial AquaWatch scoping phase, CSIRO and SmartSat expect to have a framework for future development of the mission.

More information: AquaWatch – SmartSat CRC and CSIRO

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