A sensor node festooned with climate sensors in a rainforest clearing.

One of over 175 nodes at Mt Springbrook.

Rainforest rehabilitation underpinned by smart CSIRO technology

One of the world's largest wireless sensor networks is revolutionising environmental monitoring and biodiversity restoration.

  • 25 July 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011

Every five minutes a densely packed network of CSIRO's wireless sensor nodes measures growing conditions in the rainforest at Mt Springbrook – part of a World Heritage precinct in south-east Queensland, Australia.

Mt Springbrook includes several hundred hectares of globally significant forests that were cleared last century. Efforts are now underway to rehabilitate the rainforest.

Current activities

There are currently over 185 solar powered nodes, with a total of 640 sensors attached to them, monitoring growing conditions across the rehabilitation area at a very fine scale.

The microclimate indicators we are monitoring include:

CSIRO’s wireless sensor network technology is providing reliable, long-term monitoring as the forest is restored.
  • air temperature, humidity and pressure
  • rainfall
  • soil moisture
  • wind speed and direction
  • carbon dioxide concentration
  • sunshine, cloud cover and fog density. 

The current microclimate network is gathering over 500 000 samples per day.

Included in the network are ten ‘multimedia’ nodes with miniature microphones and cameras that estimate biodiversity indicators (such as number of birds and variety of species) by automatically analysing sound and video.

Each node uses a low power radio transmitter to send sensor data to one of two network ‘gateways’. Nodes outside direct range of a gateway can ‘hop’ their data through other nodes.

The gateways forward data to a central database via a 3G connection. The data is accessed through an easy-to-use web portal, which can also be used to send instructions back to the nodes.

Sophisticated software and hardware ensures the nodes consume very little energy and have a long life. Highly efficient solar recharging circuitry means the internal batteries can recharge even if the node is under dense rainforest canopy.

Achievements

We have been continuously monitoring at Mt Springbrook since May 2008, proving that is possible to stream real-time data from open and covered rainforest using a low bandwidth wireless sensor network.

At the heart of each node lies ‘sensor hub’ hardware and software developed by CSIRO and the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management that is compatible with virtually any commercially available sensor.

Network milestones we have reached include:

  • installing a prototype network of ten nodes (May 2008)
  • expanding the network to 50 nodes (February 2010)
  • deploying 175 nodes hooked up to some 700 environmental sensors (June 2011), including ten multimedia nodes that analyse sound and images and make grabs available through the web portal.

Outcomes

The data we are gathering is helping build understanding of how very local factors affect vegetation regrowth, which will in turn improve land restoration policy and practices.

No other technology holds the same potential for real-time monitoring of complex, interlinked variables (climate, soils, water, terrain, plants and animals) involved in ecological restoration.

Partners

This project is a collaboration between CSIRO and the:

  • Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management
  • Australian Rainforest Conservation Society.

Read more about the technical details behind our Sensor Networks [external link].