Environmental footprint

Our goal: to measure, monitor and minimise its environmental footprint.

This includes conservation of resources, minimising waste generation, maximising the use of renewable energy, and minimising the use of potable water during construction, among other measures.

Respect for the land

In South Africa, the 135,000 hectares of land acquired for the SKA-Mid telescope is a protected area which has been declared a new national park (Meerkat National Park), under management from the national agency SANParks. The Meerkat National Park allows for the creation of multi-disciplinary research platforms, aiming at enhancing heritage, archaeological, ecological, aquatic, flora and fauna conservation and promoting resource management through the removal of alien invasive trees. A number of tertiary and research institutions are already undertaking environmental research on the SKA-Mid site.

In Australia, the SKA-Low telescope is constructed on Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, located primarily on a 3,500km2 destocked cattle station known as Boolardy Station. The SKAO is only disturbing a small percentage of the total land that makes up the Observatory (less than 0.2%). The Murchison district and Boolardy station have a rich and diverse flora and fauna heritage. CSIRO, in conjunction with the Western Australian Government, has commenced collating and analysing decades of data on the flora in the region. This research will be used to provide advice to a multitude of agencies and working groups on the impact of grazing activities and climate change in the broader region, as well as with a specific view on assisting with future activities on land and water management, including principles of rehabilitation for Boolardy Station. 

Programmes to ensure the protection and non disturbance of native species are also in place. The region which is becoming home to SKA-Low is also home to a vulnerable species of lizard: the western spiny-tailed skink. A skink survey programme took place prior to the first land clearing works to ensure construction operations don’t impact this native creature. A number of SKA-Low staff in Australia have since been approved as fauna specialists to lead future surveys.

A land rehabilitation programme, starting as soon as possible, will further minimise the impact of the construction of the telescopes. Many other actions and interventions are embedded in SKAO’s processes, including minimising the use of plastic packing materials (wood, cardboard or steel is preferred) or the treatment of sewage via anaerobic treatment plant (which produces largely water) as opposed to chemical treatment plants, among other things. 

Reducing power needs

In terms of carbon emissions, reducing the power needs of the telescopes and computing facilities has been a major focus of work, as they are expected to account for 90% of the SKAO's CO2 emissions overall. Having considered environmental impact during the design phase of the SKA project, it is estimated that the projected power consumption of the Observatory has already been halved through innovative design solutions.

In total, it is estimated that the SKA telescopes and computing facilities, and SKAO Global Headquarters should require around 12MW of power overall. The highest priority, and the best opportunity to reduce the Observatory’s reliance on fossil fuels, is to use electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels at our sites, and the target is to reach 90% renewables-generated power at its remote antenna locations. Over the last few years, the SKAO has been engaging with companies that could implement renewables-based power systems at the telescope sites under likely long-term power purchase agreements. 

The Observatory is also exploring ways to embed sustainability in its computing facilities. As part of this, the SKAO is working to ensure that its data centres use as little power as possible for cooling, traditionally a power-intensive task to keep the computing equipment at optimum temperatures. While older data centres can use as much power for cooling as for running the IT equipment, the SKAO is teaming up with facilities that strive to incorporate novel solutions. Our partner organisations are already demonstrating this, such as the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Australia, which uses an innovative geothermal system, with groundwater cooling their machines.

The teams are also prioritising the efficient and responsible use of water at the computing centres, and ensuring sustainable practices are considered in the tender process, where the SKAO is asking manufacturers bidding for computing contracts to account for the carbon used from mining raw materials through to end products being produced, and to report on factors such as recycling of packaging.

The facade of Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre which features solar panels
The Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth has solar panels incorporated into its facade and a groundwater cooling system to cool its supercomputer.

Electricity for our global headquarters in the UK is provided by the University of Manchester and already comes from 100% renewable sources. Moreover, the SKAO HQ was designed with sustainability as a guiding principle and features a number of environmentally friendly elements, such as natural daylight and ventilation, dark sky compliant lighting around the building, and electric vehicle charging points. As a result, it has obtained a Very Good BREEAM rating, an international scheme that provides independent third party certification of the sustainability performance of buildings.

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Last modified on 28 June 2024