Mon. Oct 2nd, 2023
Australia Installs Sensors to Monitor Great Barrier Reef Sediment Runoff

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has implemented specialized sensors to monitor and forecast sediment runoff in the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef. This discharge poses a threat to the marine ecosystem of the UNESCO World Heritage site. CSIRO researchers claim that this system of sensors, installed in recent months, is the first of its kind globally. It utilizes a combination of specialized sensors, satellite data, and artificial intelligence to monitor water quality.

The objective is to develop an integrated ground-to-space water quality monitoring network by using sensors in the water and existing Earth observation satellites. Factors such as global warming, urbanization, deforestation, and contamination are currently threatening the quality of Australia’s coastal and inland waterways.

The system specifically analyzes the flow of sediment and dissolved organic carbon from the Fitzroy River into Keppel Bay, located in central Queensland’s southern region of the Great Barrier Reef. Its purpose is to provide early warnings regarding harmful algae and contaminants. CSIRO’s AquaWatch Australia Mission, which focuses on ground-to-space water monitoring, is using the reef as one of its seven test sites. The research team aims to expand the system to fifteen sites by 2026.

According to Alex Held, the project’s head, sediments obstruct sunlight from reaching the seafloor, affecting the growth and photosynthesis of seagrass and algae. The sensors and satellites will monitor the effectiveness of government programs aimed at reducing sediment runoff into the sea. These programs involve preservation of vegetation along riverbeds and tributaries to minimize erosion.

The Great Barrier Reef faces various threats, including climate change, pollution, farm pesticide and fertilizer runoff, as well as coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. Extending over 2,300 kilometers off Australia’s northeast coastline, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and remains the sole living entity visible from space.