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FAQ: Learn more about AquaWatch

AquaWatch Australia is a mission in development with CSIRO, Smartsat CRC and a number of collaborations as part of the CSIRO Missions program. AquaWatch is a proposed Earth observations system for monitoring and managing the quality of water systems throughout Australia and the world. Water is our most important and vital resource. The health of inland waterways and coastal environments is essential for maintaining safe water for drinking, for use by primary industries and for preserving natural environments. The AquaWatch system would deliver real-time data for monitoring and managing both our valuable freshwater resources, and our coastal environments.

Tailored for Australia, but suitable for global applications, the program will be a step-change in the nation's water quality information delivery. As well as monitoring the health of inland rivers, dams and waterways, AquaWatch will also have potential application to monitoring coastal wetlands, aquaculture farms, riparian vegetation and terrestrial biodiversity, mine sites, mangroves and coral reef environments.

'AquaWatch Phase-0' is a one-year project, running from mid-2020 until mid-2021, to scope the AquaWatch mission. It aims to build the business case for AquaWatch and develop an initial set of system requirements that address End-User needs. The Phase-0 project will also create preliminary plans for AquaWatch construction.

Major partners in the AquaWatch Phase-0 project are CSIRO and the Smartsat CRC.

We also have partnership agreements and contributions from a range of highly regarded scientific and industrial research organisations including; the University of New South Wales, Curtin University, Water Research Australia, Frontier SI, the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Department of Defence, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Space Agency.

The AquaWatch Phase-0 project will include a consultation process which will invite interested parties to contribute to the development of the AquaWatch concept. This will take the form of:

  • Identifying user requirements for important AquaWatch applications.
  • Translating the user requirements into system specifications.
  • Translating the system specifications into feasible system architectures.
  • Refining business cases for the applications.

The consultation process welcomes input from end-users, as well as water quality scientists and technology developers. Interested parties can register to participate in the consultation process in several ways:

  • Contacting us at
  • Completing the survey and nomination form that was distributed to registrants of the AquaWatch Phase-0 Introductory Webcast (closed at the end of Oct 2020).
  • Contacting the relevant CSIRO Government Liaison officer in your state. 

The AquaWatch construction plans will be created over the course of the AquaWatch Phase-0 project (mid-2020 to mid-2021).

These construction plans will identify an AquaWatch system architecture that is feasible, which addresses the needs of the user community and which is supported by a strong business case. The plans will also describe the scope, budget and schedule for the construction project, along with a roll-out plan for system verification and validation.

While AquaWatch construction is likely to provide a range of opportunities for potential partners in any related industry, all commercial partnerships or contracts for AquaWatch construction will need to be developed in line with the procurement policies of the project sponsors and project leaders.

Contributions to the AquaWatch Phase-0 project will be used to help define the AquaWatch system architecture. We will avoid developing the system architecture in a way that limits us to the use of any company's IP or products.

Sponsorship for the AquaWatch construction project will be sought during the Phase-0 project and upon delivery of the AquaWatch construction plans. Throughout the Phase-0 project we expect to build compelling, evidence-based business cases that will support this activity.

Early indications are that the AquaWatch construction phase (including design, construction, integration and verification) will take around eight years. That is highly contingent on the eventual system architecture identified. The full commissioning of the system may take longer.

On the other hand, the AquaWatch architecture is likely to support a staged roll-out during its construction phase; iterative approaches to system integration and verification will allow the system to grow and evolve over time. (Possibly involving precursors, or preproduction satellites). This will not only support a low-risk approach to AquaWatch construction, but it will provide scientifically valuable data from relatively early in the construction phase.

Water quality refers to the amounts and types of chemicals and other materials that occur in creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans. This includes suspended sediments, often referred to as 'turbidity', along with suspended and dissolved material from terrestrial and aquatic plants and algae. In some cases, these algae contain toxins and are referred to as harmful algal blooms. Measuring, mapping and monitoring water quality is essential for maintaining safe drinking and other water supplies and healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Imaging sensors (advanced cameras) on satellites can measure how much sunlight is absorbed and reflected by features on the earth's surface. The colours we see, and that the satellites 'see' or 'measure' over water bodies are controlled by water quality properties, e.g. concentrations of suspended sediments and suspended and dissolved organic materials.

This means we can use the satellites to measure and map the water quality properties. As satellites provide local to global coverage on a repeatable basis (hours to days), it means we can map and monitor changes to water quality.

'Remote Sensing' is the collection of knowledge and techniques used to collect and transform images into maps and measurements.

AquaWatch will be designed to monitor all inland water bodies: lakes, farm dams, reservoirs, streams, rivers, coastal lagoons, estuaries and coastal waters and coral reefs within Australia. It will be tailored to meet the specific needs of Australia, supporting improved management and health of our precious water resources. The AquaWatch system will include Earth observation satellites designed to detect optical water quality and water body extent from space. The satellite images will be supplemented by data from a real-time in situ sensing network, as well as water quality modelling providing a range of data points for increased situational awareness and supporting early detection or prediction of issues including water quality variables not measurable from space.

The range of parameters that will be detectable from space, and from the remote sensing network is still being determined. However, the current work to define AquaWatch focuses on the CEOS (2018) report: 'Feasibility Study for an Aquatic Ecosystem Earth Observing System', with special consideration to the types of water bodies and common issues found in Australia.

Although the initial concept deals with Australian needs, AquaWatch may have a significant role in supporting management and health of water resources around the world.

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