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Digitalisation helping protect the Great Barrier Reef

Australian scientists and researchers are using leading German digitalisation and automation technology from Siemens to simulate, monitor and assess the impact of climate change, ocean acidification and water quality on marine life at the Great Barrier Reef.

Believed to be the most advanced facility of its type in the world, the technology at the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s $35m National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) in Townsville has also helped researchers produce more than 5 million larvae for use in experiments.

Jeff Connolly, CEO of Siemens Australia and NZ congratulated the researchers and Australian government for employing the most advanced technologies to protect reef for future generations.

“The Great Barrier Reef is a global asset. It belongs to the people of the world, and it’s great to see that our technology can support the fine work and ingenuity of Australian scientists and researchers,” said Connolly.

“For the first time researchers can use technology to do things previously not possible.” The reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the only living organism that can be seen from the moon, but according to Mark Read, Manager of Operations Support at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the economic value the Great Barrier Reef brings to Australia is about $5.6bn a year.

“Also, the reef provides just under 70,000 jobs, with about 64,000 of those directly involved with tourism. However, including the natural value the reef brings means it’s very, very difficult to put a dollar figure on the entire area. It’s big.”

At the SeaSim, the German digitalisation and automation technology is helping bring clarity on the impacts of climate change, coral bleaching, pest management, sediment and pollution, and seawater technologies; all vitally important – not just to protect the natural conditions or marine ecosystems but to also maintain a sustainable economy and livelihood of people dependent on the reef.

Dr. David Souter, research director at AIMS (Australian Institute of Marine Science) says SeaSim gives the organisation a capability they never had before in terms of the complexity of experiments they can carry out.

“The Siemens technology underpins all the monitoring systems here within SeaSim. We are able to look at multiple environmental parameters that affect marine organisms, and this is the first time we have been able to do that,” Souter said.

Connolly went to explain that German technology is helping Australia herald in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) through innovative applications by some of the brightest minds in the country.

“The SeaSim is a spectacular infrastructure development that not only helps in the research of marine life, but also the protection of the nation’s assets.

AIMS has used automation technology in a non-industrial environment to create a one-of-a-kind global facility that uses smart data and digitalisation to analyse one of the wonders of the world. It is truly remarkable,” said Connolly.

The main focus of SeaSim is to provide a complete plant/process automation system to run high-quality marine research in an aquarium setting.

At the SeaSim, the German digitalisation and automation technology is helping bring clarity on the impacts of climate change, coral bleaching, pest management, sediment and pollution, and seawater technologies;

The initial automation solution was developed by SAGE Automation, one of Australia’s leading independent automation and control systems integration services providers and a Siemens Solution Partner.

Siemens’ Simatic PCS 7 is used at the facility to conduct multiple experiments running simultaneously over long periods of time.

Some experiments will run for years, and the system enables researchers to add or remove other experiments without taking the control system offline for system modifications.

According to Adrian Fahey, CEO of Sage Automation, the project is a great example of industrial technology being applied successfully in a non-traditional industrial application. “The solution was driven by high-precision data collection and reporting.”

Craig Humphrey, SeaSim’s Precinct Operations Manager, said over 70 individual experiments have been conducted in the SeaSim to date, ranging from experiments run over days to weeks to others which will take years to be completed.


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