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Remote sensing and our use of satellite imagery

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) 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.

The MDBA uses public and openly accessible satellite imagery and other information, tailored to monitor Basin conditions to support management decisions and supplement on-ground observations.

We monitor how river flows behave, how water spreads across floodplains and how the land or vegetation responds over time. This is carried out using near-real time data collected from earth observation satellites for local conditions since 1987, across the Basin's 1 million square kilometre footprint.

This assists the MDBA to gauge how past, current, and future water management policies have real on-ground outcomes for communities and the environment. The MDBA collaborates and shares findings with other Commonwealth and state government agencies to assist in their programs of work and to improve Basin Plan implementation and outcomes.

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.

Image of a remote sensing satellite

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

How we use remote sensing

As an example of this capability, the MDBA used Sentinel-2 imagery to monitor the Northern Fish Flow event as it moved through the Border Rivers and Gwydir catchments, and into the Barwon–Darling. This work was conducted in close consultation with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Officer (CEWO) to understand how these rivers behave under dry conditions and monitor how the flow progresses.

This special release of water for the environment was prompted by the extended dry conditions that prevailed throughout much of the Northern Basin in 2018–­19, adversely affecting water quality and putting native fish populations under further stress. In response, from April to June 2019, the Commonwealth and New South Wales environmental water holders delivered water for the environment downstream in the Dumaresq, Macintyre, Mehi and Barwon river systems. Referred to as the Northern Fish Flow, this action improved water quality, connecting the rivers and improving habitat for native fish and animals. Further details and updates are available from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) website.

Drone Monitoring at Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is a naturally occurring shallow lake in south-western New South Wales that forms an ‘off-river’ storage that assists in regulating flow and salinity in the River Murray as it flows into South Australia. The lake is also a site of complex archaeological and historical significance to First Nations People and European settlers. To minimise impacts to the site, the MDBA and partner governments implement a Cultural Landscape Plan of Management (CLPM) in close consultation with local landholders, First Nations communities and governments.

The MDBA, in partnership with SAWater and New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, use drones to monitor the Lake Victoria lakeshore. This aerial imagery is used to track changes in vegetation and sediment cover to understand the potential risk of damage to cultural heritage sites. Drones are used to complement on-ground monitoring including lakeshore profile surveys and vegetation photomonitoring to understand changes in lakeshore condition through time. This information is used to prioritise areas for on-ground management such as cultural heritage protection, revegetation and erosion works. It is also used to assess how effective lakeshore conservation works have been in promoting native vegetation growth, minimising erosion and protecting cultural heritage.

Updated: 21 Dec 2021