NASA and NOAA satellite imagery is currently used to identify, monitor and map potentially harmful algal blooms.


CLEVELAND -- Engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are using NASA Glenn remote sensing technology, previously developed for Mars exploration, to learn more about the Lake Erie algal bloom that contaminated water supplies in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan over the weekend.

Deploying a hyper-spectral imager and miniature spectrometers aboard Glenn's S-3 aircraft, which begins the flight campaign today, researchers from Glenn; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. are using the high resolution instruments to capture images that will reveal western Lake Erie's characteristics across the light spectrum.

Additional partners in the latest algal bloom flight research campaign include Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio and Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich.

NASA and NOAA satellite imagery is currently used to identify, monitor and map potentially harmful algal blooms. However, varying weather conditions may obscure a satellite's imaging capability during a scheduled pass. The use of airborne remote-sensing instruments supplements satellite imagery and helps provide continual monitoring of algal blooms even when cloud cover is prevalent.

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The use of remote-sensing equipment could also be beneficial in other parts of the world where satellite imagery is not available and algal blooms are an issue.

Once analyzed, the data collected through this research will be publicly available to those with an interest in algal blooms.

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The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite captured the photo you see with this story of an algae bloom in the west end of Lake Erie.

The image of the coastal waters off of Ohio, Michigan, and southwestern Ontario was acquired at 2:50 p.m. EST on August 3, 2014, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

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Each aquatic component of the lake has a unique spectrographic signature. By studying these signatures, researchers can continually improve their ability to remotely identify the biochemical properties of an algal bloom and predict when and where they will form.

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"Fresh water is one of Earth's most precious commodities and is essential to our civilization's survival," said John Lekki, an optical systems research engineer at Glenn. "Our collaboration with NOAA, and now the U.S. Naval Research Lab in this effort, will increase our understanding of how to confront this significant environmental and human health threat."

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