Studying The Lake Erie Algal Bloom

©NASA/USN

Lake Erie Algal Bloom

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 (GLERL) 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. 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.

"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."

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. 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.

"NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Lab have the expertise and resources uniquely suited to tackle this issue," said George Leshkevich, a physical scientist with the GLERL. "Getting this higher resolution data on Lake Erie will help us better understand the characteristics of the current bloom and improve our satellite detection methods to pinpoint where and when future blooms will occur."

The remote-sensing project is sponsored by NASA's Applied Sciences Program in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

Over the past several weeks, researchers from Glenn and GLERL have been testing the remote sensing system mounted on the S-3. Previous remote-sensing research flights with NOAA took place in 2007.
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.

For more information on NASA Glenn Research Center, visit:
www.nasa.gov/glenn

For more information on NASA Earth science activities, visit:
www.nasa.gov/earth

For more information on NOAA, visit:
www.noaa.gov

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