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CSIRO to Develop Water Quality Forecast System


CSIRO, the Australian national science agency, has announced the launch of AquaWatch Australia, an initiative aimed at introducing the first-ever water quality monitoring system from the ground to space, catering to both Australia and the world.

Once fully operational, AquaWatch will deliver near real-time updates and predictive forecasting, similar to a weather service but for water quality. The program will leverage an extensive network of Earth observation satellites and ground-based water sensors to enable improved water quality management. It will provide early warnings for harmful events, including toxic algal blooms, blackwater, and runoff contamination.

In addition to enhancing water quality management, the AquaWatch system will bolster the resilience of Australian communities that rely on water and improve outcomes for the natural environment in the aftermath of events like bushfires and floods.

CSIRO is collaborating with SmartSat CRC, its foundation partner, to bring together research, government, and industry stakeholders. The development and design of AquaWatch will involve an initial co-investment of $83 million.

CSIRO’s Chief Executive emphasised the significance of water as a vital resource in Australia and worldwide. The AquaWatch Australia initiative is designed to provide extensive water quality monitoring that would enhance water quality management in various sectors. The system aims to provide predictive forecasting, allowing for early warning on harmful water events such as toxic algal blooms, blackwater, and runoff contamination.

AquaWatch Australia will leverage Earth observation satellites and other science capabilities such as in-situ sensing, ecosystem modelling, engineering, data science, and artificial intelligence. It is part of CSIRO’s Missions Program, a large-scale scientific research initiative that seeks to accelerate problem-solving for some of the nation’s most significant challenges. The program aims to increase the resilience of Australian communities that depend on water and improve outcomes for the natural environment after events such as bushfires and floods.

AquaWatch will collaborate with various implementation partners to expand its monitoring capabilities from rivers to coasts. The initiative will have the ability to monitor water quality in bays, coastal wetlands, aquaculture farming, mangrove forests, and coral reefs, including the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef.

According to SmartSat’s CRC Chief Executive Officer space technology will play a significant role in the AquaWatch initiative and will be critical in developing an accurate understanding of Australia’s water systems. As the foundational partner for AquaWatch, SmartSat CRC has partnered with CSIRO to establish several pilot projects aimed at developing technologies to monitor and manage Australia’s water resources effectively.

These cooperative projects bring together research partners, government, and industry to cover integrated ground-to-space water quality monitoring systems for inland, estuarine, and near-coastal water bodies.

The AquaWatch partnership is an excellent example of the benefits of cross-agency collaboration and demonstrates the potential to achieve much more when combining efforts and know-how for the benefit of all Australians. The collaborative effort to leverage data gathered from satellites will play a crucial role in safeguarding Australia’s future water supply and improving the natural environment.

Once operational, AquaWatch will integrate data from both water sensors and satellites into a central data hub. CSIRO’s expertise in data analysis and AI will then provide forecasts a few days in advance. The system is currently being tested through six pilot sites around Australia, where it is being used to monitor toxic blue-green algae blooms at Lake Tuggeranong in Canberra, among other uses.

The system is also being tested along Australia’s coasts, with a pilot project focused on monitoring how sediment flow from the Fitzroy River out to the Great Barrier Reef affects water quality. Additional pilots established overseas will demonstrate how AquaWatch can be used to monitor water quality for various purposes, such as drinking, sanitation, species conservation, hydroelectricity, and carbon sequestration in mangrove forests.

The AquaWatch Mission involves collaboration between CSIRO, SmartSat CRC, and a network of partners from government, industry, and research organisations. Among these partners are government agencies such as the ACT Government’s Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science, and Western Australia’s Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.

The mission also includes industry partners as well as universities and research organisations such as ANU Institute for Water Futures, ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, Curtin University, La Trobe University, and the University of Queensland.

International collaborators include CSIRO Chile, Hanoi University of Mining and Geology, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Merced, and Vietnam’s National Center for Water Resources and Investigation.

The mission aims to develop and implement a system that integrates data from various sources to provide accurate and timely monitoring and forecasting of water quality for a range of applications.


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