Researchers will be using the SOWC platform to test out-of-this-world technology that will strengthen watershed data acquisition through the utilization of microsatellites. Through an international collaboration of academic, private industry, and government partners, research has begun at Alder Creek, a sub-watershed of the Grand River, to test the use of micro-satellites in water resource management and assess the market potential for such applications.

ITR team at RAAF base

Institute for Telecommunications Research Team at RAAF base

Under a project funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, Communitech, through its DATA.BASE program, is leading a project with exactEarth, a southern Ontario-based data services company and subsidiary of COM DEV Canada which specializes in the use of microsatellite technology in Automatic Identification Systems for monitoring ship traffic. The purpose of the new project is to explore the use of similar technology for innovative data collection and transmission methods, and to assess the commercial potential of the technology for new applications.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute and specialists from COM DEV Canada are using the SOWC platform to test a watershed monitoring application of this satellite transmission capacity with access to a satellite platform owned and operated by exactEarth. The project will complement the existing infrastructure being deployed through the SOWC research facility at Alder Creek for data collection and radio communications. Other partners include Solinst Canada Ltd, the Grand River Conversation Authority, Diavik Diamond Mine and Detour Gold Corporation.

“The research we are conducting allows us to evaluate the potential use of micro-satellites in collecting relevant environmental and hydrologic data,” said Dr. Dave Rudolph, Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and SOWC Watershed Node Leader. “We want to establish integrated monitoring networks that will compile data in near real-time at the watershed-scale, transfer this information to control centres within the watershed, and transmit the data to a satellite-based receiving and transmission platform.”

Such technology will grant access to larger amounts of data, different types of data, and data at varying time and spatial scales, which is essential to the development of more effective water management systems and strategies. Ultimately, it provides decision makers and researchers with timely, integrated data streams that allows near real-time assessment of significant aspects of the watershed, even under varying climatic conditions and in remote locations. This has garnered international academic attention from the other side of the planet.

Prof Bill Cowley deploying sensor

Professor Bill Cowley from the Institute for Telecommunications Research deploys a sensor

As part of an international research partnership, a team of researchers from the Institute for Telecommunications Research at the University of South Australia are heavily involved in this project, and will travel to Southern Ontario to take part in a week-long trial transmission of watershed data to a satellite from three monitoring sites, two of which are remote.

“We completed an initial limited trial in Australia using both aircraft and spacecraft through synthesized transmission signals,” says Dr. Ian D’Souza, Mission Scientist at Com Dev Canada. “The upcoming trial within the SOWC platform will be the first real-world application of this technology, and will be the first time we employ multiple simultaneous test sites located thousands of kilometres away from each other.”

The ability to access a watershed and an extensive monitoring infrastructure gives researchers and technology companies the ability to demonstrate a technology’s value to water resource management and to show it deployed in a real-world application. This makes the platform being created by SOWC valuable in terms of commercialization of new approaches and technologies.

“The commercialization of micro-satellites and advanced digital processing offers significant opportunity for the identification and testing of innovative new products and data services applicable to water resource management,” said Dr. Rudolph. “A major focus of this project is to provide an initial evaluation of the economic and business potential associated with the data logging systems, communications platforms and data management technologies.”

Initially, the transmissions will be made from the SOWC facility at Alder Creek to aircraft, followed up with transmissions to the satellite systems. This multi-faceted collaboration is well suited to the mandate of the SOWC platform: to facilitate the demonstration by academic and industry partners of innovative water technologies in real-world environments. The trial will begin near the end of September.