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digital skin 2009

A GBROOS sensor deployed near Heron Island. Image: Scott Bainbridge.

The new Great Barrier Reef Ocean Observing System (GBROOS) is midway through its roll-out but has already begun to show how important it is going to be in the future in monitoring conditions on the Great Barrier Reef.

This ambitious program to cover the Reef with a variety of high-tech sensors was first announced by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Senator Kim Carr in early 2008 and since then the huge logistical task of deploying the sensors and activating the network has been underway in earnest. GBROOS is one of five nodes of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), a national project designed to provide comprehensive monitoring of the oceans around Australia.

When Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Hamish roared down the Reef in March 2009, the GBROOS sensors picked up data from a number of locations and relayed it back to AIMS headquarters via the Telstra 3G network. Reef scientists were able to witness data on the huge physical forces of the cyclone from multiple observation points as it was unfolding.

The combination of systems, from remote sensing imagery, an array of deep-water moorings through to shallow reef sensors, allows water to be tracked from the deep oceans onto and into the reefs themselves, showing how the ocean processes influence reefs directly. The system also tracks the ebb and flow of the major currents such as the East Australian Current.

GBROOS includes the world's first remote coral reef wireless sensor network and its sensors have so far been set up at Heron and One Tree Islands in the southern GBR. Also, underway sensors have been fixed to RV Cape Ferguson and to various GBR commercial ferries as well, adding greatly to the amount of data able to be collected. In addition, AIMS' RV Solander , currently deployed in Western Australian waters, has had an underway sensor fitted.

The entire GBROOS network should be in place, with the addition of central and northern sectors of the GBR, by the middle of 2010. Data from the existing sensors is publicly available via the website