CSIRO looks to the heavens in ‘world-first’ water quality management initiative

CSIRO Waterways Management Data Space

Australia’s national science research agency, the CSIRO, and space industry consortium, SmartSat, have launched a “world-first” initiative utilising sensor technologies from the ground to space to help monitor the water quality of Australia’s inland waterways, reservoirs, and coastal environments.

Dubbed AquaWatch Australia, the mission will seek to gather data from space – considered a global first in water quality management – as well as ground-based sensors to inform water management authorities on the health of inland and coastal waterways.

By 2026, the program will aim to establish a fully integrated national water quality monitoring system.

According to the consortium, the project has “the potential to position Australia as a global leader in water quality monitoring and management”.

The pair will launch a 12-month scoping study, alongside several leading research institutions, offering a preliminary assessment of opportunities “to drive efficiencies, advancements, and adoption of new space technology” for water resource monitoring, said SmartSat chief executive Professor Andy Koronios. International partnerships will also be considered.

Early collaborators in the program include University of Queensland, UNSW Canberra Space, Curtin University, SatDek and Water Research Australia.

Currently, satellites monitoring local waterways only cover approximately “60 to 70 per cent” of major Australian water bodies, according to the CSIRO.

While water management authorities do extensively monitor individual waterways, the results of this testing data are not integrated with other satellite data.

The CSIRO said the AquaWatch mission will complement rather than replace existing water management systems, building a “national monitoring system” that incorporates a network of ground-based sensors installed throughout Australia’s rivers and waterways.

These remote sensing technologies would work in conjunction with purpose-designed Earth observation satellites, delivering real-time updates, predictive analytics, and forecast warnings to water management authorities.

Natural events can present a significant threat to the health of our waterways. These include toxic algal blooms, the contamination of drinking water, and excess runoff from irrigation.

“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,” Koronios said.

The CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation Director Dr Alex Held said the research agency would work with “water agencies, community leaders and industry” to understand the challenges faced in water health monitoring.

“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,” Dr Held said.

“This will help inform the development of future local advanced manufacturing opportunities, water modelling and Earth observation data analysis and applications.

The CSIRO said AquaWatch could potentially monitor coastal wetlands, aquaculture farms, riparian vegetation and terrestrial biodiversity, mine sites, mangroves, and coral reef environments.

Following the initial scoping phase, the CSIRO and SmartSat are expected to have a framework to support future development for the mission.