The August, 2014 water crisis in Toledo, Ohio was the result of an early algae bloom in Lake Erie.  Good algae is important to as it is part of the food chain in Lake Erie but the bad algae, a green sludge-like substance contains microcystin, the toxin that can cause nausea, rashes and liver damage.

The NOAA began capturing satellite imagery to show harmful algal blooms around Lake Erie after a record 2011 bloom that stretched all of the way to Cleveland, and beyond.  “The imaging is almost like an X-ray of Lake Erie,” said NASA public affairs specialist Frank Jennings. “It allows us to better characterize the biological components (of the algal blooms) and can tell us if we’re seeing good algae or bad algae.”

Using remote sensing technology, originally developed for Mars exploration, aboard an S-3 aircraft, the NASA Glen Research Center in Cleveland, OH began flights to capture images using a hyper-spectral imager and a miniature spectrometer.algae bloom

Because clear skies are needed to produce quality satellite images, the S-3 flies under the clouds to get clear pictures regardless of the weather or cloud cover and captures high-resolution images to supplement satellite images that are monitored.

Large algae blooms don’t usually begin to appear until late August, peaking through September into early October. Algae blooms occur as a result of phosphorous runoff from agricultural fertilizer, animal waste and raw sewage that makes its way into the lake.

Using high-resolution imagery, scientists and researchers can use the images identify the algae’s properties, predict time and location of future algae blooms and help communities learn better ways to protect Lake Erie.

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