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Published: Wednesday, 8/6/2014


Special flights to monitor Lake Erie algae bloom


The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will start special flights today to capture high-tech aerial images of the algae bloom in Lake Erie that caused a water-quality crisis over the weekend in Toledo, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) announced Tuesday.

“I deeply appreciate NASA Glenn Director Jim Free for stepping forward to lend assistance to our community as we continue to grapple with the serious conditions in the Western Basin,” Miss Kaptur said in her announcement. “This crisis means all hands on deck to protect the lake, and NASA Glenn is a tremendous asset to us in that effort.”

National Aeronautic and Space Administration satellites already produce images that identify, monitor, and map potentially harmful algae blooms, but cloud cover can obscure their view.

Airborne remote-sensing instruments carried aboard S-3 airplanes supplement satellite imagery and can provide continual monitoring of algae blooms regardless of clouds.

Glenn officials told Miss Kaptur its engineers will deploy a hyperspectral imager and miniature spectrometer to capture high-resolution images of the blue-green algae bloom in western Lake Erie that produces microcystin, a toxin that has been detected in the raw-water intakes at treatment plants along the lakeshore from Erie County west.

On Friday evening, the toxin reached dangerous levels in the treated water at the Toledo plant, prompting a no-drink order that lasted until Monday morning. Officials from other treatment plants noted, however, that algae problems are likely to persist until mid-autumn, when the water cools sufficiently to kill off the microscopic plants.

The high-resolution images will allow researchers to attempt to identify the algae’s biochemical properties and predict the time and location of further blooms.

The University of Toledo, Kent State University, and the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor will be partners with NASA in the research effort, Miss Kaptur’s office said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory also has been involved in algae tracking and research, including the tracking of algae nutrients at two locations in western Lake Erie.

The NOAA lab has established a forecast bulletin for algae blooms that describes their current location and, based on weather forecasts, predicts future movement and intensity.

The bulletin, which features maps color-coded for algae concentration, is posted weekly on the Web site of the National Weather Service’s Cleveland office.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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