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Remote sensing and our use of satellite imagery

The MDBA's increasing use of remote monitoring technologies such as satellite imagery to study the Basin's large geographic areas, is proving a game changer in water flow monitoring and compliance.

Following both the Basin-wide compliance review in 2017 and the successful use of satellite imagery to monitor a major water for the environment flow event through the Barwon and Darling Rivers in 2018, the MDBA has now built capacity to use remote sensing technology to monitor water flows as they occur across the Basin's one million square kilometre footprint—for hydrological, ecological and compliance purposes.

Satellite imagery allows the MDBA to observe how river flows behave and how the land, including vegetation, changes over time. For compliance purposes, that data, combined with hydrological (gauge flow data) analysis allows the MDBA to identify unexpected changes in the landscape and/or rivers, including any changes in flow that may be the result of unauthorised take.

This has proven an effective means of monitoring, particularly in areas that are difficult to routinely access for on-ground investigation.

The MDBA uses the Sentinel-2 satellite program

The MDBA uses images and conducts analysis in near real-time from the Sentinel-2 satellites (Sentinel 2A and 2B), owned and operated by the European Space Agency and accessed through Australia's largest supercomputer – the National Computational Infrastructure in Canberra.

A graphic-based explanation of the capability and the different types of images the Sentinel satellites produce.

The Northern Connectivity Event —2018

In mid-April 2018 the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) and NSW's Office of Environmental and Heritage (OEH) released water for the environment from Glenlyon Dam into the Border Rivers; and from Copeton Dam into the Gwydir catchment.

This flow travelled through the Border Rivers and Gwydir systems, connected at Collarenebri and then travelled down the Barwon–Darling River to Menindee Lakes.

The MDBA used Sentinel-2 imagery to track the flow through the river systems, identifying how far the flow had reached at various times, whether farm dams and storages were full, and whether crops were present. This event provided an ideal opportunity to test the capacity of remote sensing for MDBA's compliance capability, and was a springboard for progress since then towards making monitoring routine and automatic.

Live monitoring of the 2019 Northern Fish Flow event

The extended dry conditions throughout much of the Northern Basin in 2018–19 have adversely affected water quality and put native fish populations under further stress. In response, from April to June 2019 the Commonwealth and NSW environmental water holders are delivering water for the environment downstream in the Dumaresq, Macintyre, Mehi and Barwon river systems. Referred to as the Northern Fish Flow, the objective is to improve water quality, connecting the rivers and improving habitat for native fish and animals. Further details and regular updates are available from the CEWO website.

The MDBA is using Sentinel-2 imagery to live monitor the Northern Fish Flow event, in close consultation with the CEWO, through the Border Rivers and Gwydir catchments, as well as in the Barwon–Darling. This is to help understand how these rivers behave under dry conditions and monitor how the flow progresses. If there is evidence of unauthorised take the information will then be passed onto relevant authorities.

More information

Updated: 30 May 2019