yellow buoy with AIMS research vessel in background

Coastal and ocean observing

Facilitating the Integrated Marine Observing System across northern Australia

Australia's collaborative, nationwide Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) program deploys a national array of equipment to monitor the open oceans and coastal marine environment around Australia, covering physical, chemical and biological variables. The data help us understand the role of the oceans in controlling the functioning and health of coastal ecosystems.

As a key collaborator in this national framework, AIMS is responsible for facilities within 2 geographic nodes of IMOS – Queensland (Q-IMOS) and Western Australia (WA-IMOS). These AIMS-operated facilities consist of:

IMOS is a national collaborative research infrastructure project, supported by the Australian Government.

IMOS in Queensland

One region of focus for the Queensland node (Q-IMOS) is the Great Barrier Reef. Q-IMOS looks to understand the impact of the oceans on the Reef, the role that the East Australian Current plays, and how future changes in the oceans may affect the coast. Q-IMOS data streams underpin the development of simulation models to better describe the influence of water quality on the health of coral reef ecosystems across the Reef, which informs decisions for the sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

IMOS in Western Australia

The Western Australia node (WAIMOS) monitors the Leeuwin Current and its influence on the continental shelf environments, ecosystems and biodiversity, Divided into 2 distinct regions, AIMS (co)-operates WAIMOS facilities in the north-west, targeted at understanding the impacts of the Indonesian Throughflow, While little is known about this remote area, Australia’s north-west is home to significant marine-based industries and is a source of increased interest in the region’s natural resources. This interest signals potential rapid social and economic changes for the region, which will require data, provided by WAIMOS, to inform management and policy decisions in the near future.


Ocean observing equipment

Satellite Remote Sensing

Satellite remote sensing delivers large-scale marine environmental imagery of the Reef and the Coral Sea. This satellite data provides daily information about ocean surface temperatures and surface waters and the processes that drive these.

Ocean surface colour and ocean surface temperature is distributed in near real time to CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. Satellite tracking data is provided to the global Argo system.

Oceanographic moorings

The Australian National Moorings Network (ANMN) is comprised of a number of National Reference Stations (see below) and regional mooring arrays. These oceanographic moorings deliver information on currents, temperature, salinity and other water quality parameters at multiple depths. AIMS is responsible for moorings on the Great Barrier Reef and across Northern Australia.

Q-IMOS moorings are typically deployed as pairs with one on the outer continental shelf and the other in deeper water off the edge of the continental shelf. This design allows scientists to understand the connection between the deep ocean and continental shelf, and track upwelling of cool, nutrient-rich water into shallower areas where it can influence distribution, connectivity and productivity of marine ecosystems and fisheries.The moorings also monitor one of Australia's most influential boundary currents─the East Australian Current which has a major influence on the climate of the eastern seaboard of Australia. Go to the data and map to see the locations of Q-IMOS moorings and a description of the deployments.

WAIMOS moorings are located in the Timor Sea, making up the Indonesian Throughflow Shelf Transect. These were first deployed in 2011 and from 2012-20114 arrays were deployed off the Kimberley and Pilbara on the Northwest Shelf.

National reference stations

AIMS currently operates and maintains two of Australia’s seven National Reference Stations. The Q-IMOS Great Barrier Reef National Reference Station, located near the wreck of the SS Yongala, and the IMOS Darwin National Reference Station collect long-term baseline data on ocean conditions that include currents, waves, weather, temperature, salinity, plankton and water quality/biogeochemistry. Documentation of past and present conditions give scientists a baseline and an understanding of how our oceans are changing.

In 2014, the WAIMOS Ningaloo National Reference Station was removed from service. This Station had been gathering data since 2007.


Sea-gliders are autonomous vehicles that follow a predefined ocean path, profiling the water column and collecting data over periods spanning weeks to months. Gliders are particularly useful for places or periods when it is too rough to use normal vessels, or in remote locations where it is expensive to run conventional ship surveys. Gliders have been used to map flood plumes during the monsoon season, survey the seafloor in great detail and collect ocean data throughout the water column in remote areas such as the far northern Reef and the Coral Sea. Sea-glider movement can be tracked live.

Wireless sensor networks

Wireless sensor networks are arrays of small, wirelessly interconnected sensors that stream real-time data back to a central aggregation point. They provide fine-scale information about how parts of the reef function down to the individual coral level.

By providing real-time information they allow researchers to respond to conditions as they occur, for example documenting the effects of cyclones and warm-water events on coral reefs. This information is used to understand linkages between the open ocean and reefs, and to alert managers to conditions where coral bleaching or stress may be occurring.

The systems provide a flexible platform for a range of sensors including water temperature, salinity, depth, pH, pCO2, turbidity, light and above-water and underwater video and images. They are deployed in conjunction with existing research stations or areas of study and provide fine-scale, local environmental information. As well as giving context to other experimental work the data help document how ocean conditions affect reefs, and subsequent biological responses.

The wireless sensor networks make up the Facility for Automated Intelligent Monitoring of Marine Systems (FAIMMS) and is operated solely in Great Barrier Reef waters.

Observations from AIMS research vessels

The IMOS Ships of Opportunity facility uses merchant vessels and the two AIMS research vessels RV Cape Ferguson and RV Solander to make observations while under way way off the Queensland and Western Australia tropical coastlines. Measurements of water temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence and water turbidity, as well as meteorological and bio-optical measurements are taken at regular intervals as the ships make their way through Australia's tropical northern marine seas. Go to vessel tracking for the latest information from AIMS research vessel voyages.

Animal tracking

Animal-tracking arrays are used to track tagged animals, including fish, sharks and marine mammals, over a long period to understand their movement through reef habitats and the impact of marine reserves. The Australian Animal Tagging and Monitoring System (AATAMS) uses a selection of acoustic technology, CTD satellite trackers and biologgers to gather a range of physical and biological data of tracked animals.

More information