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Collaboration to provide satellite images of harmful algae in Western Lake Erie Basin

The University of Toledo, Blue Water Satellite Inc., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory have launched a pilot program of satellite monitoring that can provide early bloom daily tracking of the harmful algal blooms that have been increasingly threatening Western Lake Erie for the last several years.

“This experimental research project uses a collaboration between public and private entities to push the state of the art,” said Dr. Marie Colton, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. “The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, The University of Toledo and Blue Water Satellite each bring their unique knowledge and experience to the collaboration. This public-private sector collaboration can pave the way to new knowledge creation and processes that may ultimately lead to job growth as the project transfers from research to commercial production.”

Using data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer satellite, United States Geological Survey LANDSAT 7 satellite and the DigitalGlobe WorldView 2 satellite, researchers from The University of Toledo and Blue Water Satellite of Bowling Green, Ohio, will combine the data from each of the satellites. This data may in the future provide the public and governmental agencies additional ability to see toxic algae early bloom formation conditions in the entire Western Lake Erie region within 24 hours of each satellite overpass.

Low-resolution satellite data will be processed daily by Blue Water Satellite using algorithms developed by Dr. Richard Becker, UT assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. High-resolution satellite imaging will be processed every 16 days and on demand by Blue Water Satellite using algorithms developed by Dr. Robert Vincent of Bowling Green State University and by Blue Water Satellite.

“The fusion of this low-resolution and high-resolution satellite data can provide additional insights into early harmful algal blooms formation never before possible,” Becker said.

“Blue Water Satellite is pleased to be collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Dr. Becker at UT, and the opportunity to pursue a public-private collaboration,” said Milt Baker, CEO of Blue Water Satellite.

In addition to the harmful algal blooms imagery and data, Blue Water Satellite will provide measurements of total phosphorus for the entire area. Increasing levels of total phosphorus are contributors to the severe algal blooms outbreaks in Lake Erie in recent years. BlueWater Satellite has developed the only algorithm in the world that performs this total phosphorus detection and measurement function using satellite data.

The harmful algal blooms that have formed in Lake Erie in recent years commonly contain cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. Many cyanobacteria release toxins that are known to cause liver and nerve damage in humans and kill pets and other animals.

This University of Toledo work is supported through the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research, as part of its goal to assist the Great Lakes Observing System with near shore water quality management as a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Once proven successful, the fusion monitoring project may become an ongoing service during harmful algal blooms outbreak season, roughly April through October each year.