We are harnessing satellite and drone technology to innovate models that flag at-risk lakes and guide rapid response.
Algal blooms and toxic cyanobacteria can appear quickly in lakes, killing aquatic life and degrading recreational and freshwater resources. What brings them on? How can we intervene to prevent them?
While in-lake sampling is the most reliable way to monitor water quality, there are thousands of lakes that do not have lake associations or volunteer monitoring groups. Others are simply too difficult to access for sampling. Satellites and drones make it possible to observe these lakes and identify signals that forecast impending blooms.
Algae contain chlorophyll, a green pigment that Landsat8 can detect from outer space. High chlorophyll concentrations indicate high algal density in a lake. By comparing in-lake observations with information from satellite imagery, researchers can refine algorithms that equate chlorophyll data with algae concentrations. This could become a powerful tool for monitoring algae without ‘in the boat’ observations.
With collaborators, Kathleen Weathers is exploring drones as a way to measure algae on lakes in New Hampshire and Maine. Using a drone called the ‘Hexcopter’, the team is collecting aerial images of lakes to detect green wavelengths – an indicator of algae. This information is being paired with satellite imagery and on-the-ground observations to estimate, and ultimately forecast, algal blooms on lakes.
With improvements in satellite technology and finely-tuned methods of mathematical processing, forecasting algal blooms is almost within our reach.Kathleen Weathers
With improvements in satellite technology and finely-tuned methods of mathematical processing, forecasting algal blooms is almost within our reach.