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As published in Toledo Business Journal - September 1, 2014

NASA Glenn’s S-3 aircraft is one of the Center’s multi-mission airborne research platforms.

NASA Glenn’s S-3 aircraft is one of the Center’s multi-mission airborne research platforms.
Image courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center

NASA Glenn studying 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 in early August.

Deploying a hyper-spectral imager and miniature spectrometers aboard Glenn’s S-3 aircraft, researchers from Glenn; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC are using the high resolution instruments to capture images meant to reveal western Lake Erie’s characteristics across the light spectrum. According to Glenn, each aquatic component of the lake has a unique spectrographic signature, and 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,” noted John Lekki, an optical systems research engineer at Glenn. “Our collaboration with NOAA, and now the US 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. According to Glenn, 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 US Naval Research Lab have the expertise and resources uniquely suited to tackle this issue,” stated 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 Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this natural-color view of an algae bloom in the west end of Lake Erie’s coastal waters off of Ohio, Michigan, and southwestern Ontario in early August. Image courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this natural-color view of an algae bloom in the west end of Lake Erie’s coastal waters off of Ohio, Michigan, and southwestern Ontario in early August.
Image courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center

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 airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. According to NASA, it is developing new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how the 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 the 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 the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio; Kent State University in Kent, Ohio; and Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

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