Australia creating world-first ‘weather service’ for water quality

March 21st, 2023

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has launched a mission to deliver a world first ground-to-space water quality monitoring system.

The United Nations estimates three billion people could be at risk from unsafe water. Through AquaWatch Australia, CSIRO is working with partners internationally to help safeguard freshwater and coastal resources.

AquaWatch will provide near real-time updates and predictive forecasting – a weather service for water quality – once fully operational. It will support better water quality management and can be used to monitor water quality for drinking, sanitation, aquaculture, environmental assessment and a wide range of other applications to help meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

CSIRO, with foundation partner SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, is bringing together research, government and industry with an initial co-investment of AU$83 million to design and develop AquaWatch.

Data collected using an extensive network of Earth observation satellites and ground-based water sensors will be integrated at a central data hub where CSIRO’s capability in data analysis and artificial intelligence can provide forecasts a few days ahead.

CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Larry Marshall said water is one of the world’s most important and vital resources. “In places where people still face the risk of unsafe water for basic needs like drinking and sanitation, a service such as AquaWatch could be a game-changer.

“The ingenuity behind AquaWatch is it integrates Earth observation with other science capabilities like in-situ sensing, ecosystem modelling, engineering, data science and artificial intelligence. “It is the latest example of CSIRO’s Missions Program, which are large-scale scientific and collaborative research initiatives aimed at accelerating the pace and scale at which we can solve the greatest challenges.”

CSIRO and its international partners are already working together on pilot projects in:

  • California, USA in partnership with the University of California, Davis and University of California, Merced, focusing on turbidity in a major water storage
  • Sarawak, Malaysia in partnership with Swinburne University Sarawak, focusing on carbon losses from mangrove forests
  • Chile, focusing on salmon aquaculture and desalination
  • Colombia, focusing on coastal wetlands
  • Vietnam, in partnership with Vietnam’s National Center for Water Resources and Investigation (NAWAPI) and Hanoi University of Mining and Geology (HUMG), focusing on drinking water supplies and hydroelectricity needs.

Dr Alex Held, AquaWatch Mission Lead, CSIRO: “Water quality can be degraded by agricultural runoff, development of coastal areas, or events like cyclones, floods and bushfires. With AquaWatch, we’re aiming to provide forecasts of water quality two-three days into the future. It will be a sort of weather forecast for water, like a weather app on your phone. CSIRO is working with international partners in Vietnam, Malaysia, Chile, Colombia, the United States and elsewhere on pilot projects outside Australia. These sites will inform the development of AquaWatch, increasing its suitability for global applications.”

Dr Susan Ustin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, UC Davis Institute of the Environment: “The AquaWatch pilot project provides a great opportunity for researchers at UC Davis and UC Merced to collaborate with their counterparts at CSIRO, sharing data, personnel, and equipment, that enable them to better address water quality concerns of significant interest to both California and Australia.”

Contact: For interviews and more information phone +61 1300 555 005 or email
AquaWatch Australia Mission: More about CSIRO’s AquaWatch Australia Mission.