Satellites Can Spot Toxic Algae Before It Kills Your Dog – Vophs

Karen Schenck wishes she could save the dog.

A geographer specializing in remote sensing works for Schenck. EOMAP, a company spun out of the German space agency that uses satellite data to track water quality. For a decade, he used data collected by satellites to peer beneath the surface of bodies of water, looking for signs of life.

The life she’s looking for can be deadly: microscopic, aquatic plants and animals that bloom in colorful algae. In recent decades, a combination of fertilizer and sewage runoff, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and rising temperatures due to climate change have made these blooms appear more frequently. Worse, they can be toxic.

In the recent past, Schenck has relied on government-built satellites such as the US’s Landsat and Europe’s Sentinel to provide a medium-resolution image of a place on Earth every eight days or so. Now, though, it has access to daily, high-resolution images of private companies.

While testing his company’s products on Germany’s Lake Constance, he found evidence of a growing algal bloom. But while waiting for the original samples to be tested, a dog drank water on the beach, got sick, and died.

“The authorities closed down the bathing place, but it was a day too late,” he told Vophs.

The science behind the discovery of toxic algae

EOMAP works with local water agencies and municipalities around the world to monitor beaches and water bodies. Before satellite monitoring, water quality could only be determined by sampling and observation. This wasted time tracking potentially toxic algae and limited it to specific areas. Detecting this using sensors in space provides a much more comprehensive and timely view of the situation.

To find these flowers, satellites detect reflected electromagnetic energy that cannot be seen by the human eye. This is especially difficult in the case of water, which reflects most of the light that satellites want to detect. Researchers examine bands of green and red light that allow them to detect chlorophyll, the chemical plants use for photosynthesis. In the past, data from these bands of light were only accessible by government satellites, but more advanced private satellites are now adding to them.

Planet, a space data company in the US, began launching satellites in 2021 that acquire eight bands of spectral data. Now, in addition to the red, blue and green and near-infrared optical spectrum, planetary users can receive data from bands known as “Red Edge” and “Coastal Blue” as well as yellow and green bands with no fun names. Customers can use this data at 3 meters per pixel resolution, compared to Landsat’s 30 meters, and see it on a daily basis if the clouds are cooperating, says Jim Thompson, Planet’s VP of product.

Schenk says this “temporal resolution,” a term of art for how often the imagery can be collected, along with better spectral detail, allows EOMAP to create digital products that water regulators find dangerous. Able to inform about the situation much faster than today. Currently, the company monitors water around the world, even in California, where a popular recreational spot is Lake Eleanor. Suffering from algal blooms.

The future of water monitoring

Algal blooms aren’t the only aquatic phenomenon that causes problems. In the Atlantic Ocean, blooms of the floating seaweed Sargassum have become more common and are now appearing throughout the Caribbean. Scientists suspect that this is related to the effects of global warming on ocean temperatures and currents. The result can be piles of seaweed on beaches, which can damage the tourism industry, create foul odors and even block boat traffic in ports.

SargAssure, a project supported by the UK Space Agency in collaboration with universities in the UK and Mexico, uses data from Planet to create a dashboard that municipalities or local businesses can use to track sargassum. Geoff Smith, an Earth observation consultant, says the company’s high-speed data allows users to deploy measures ranging from floating booms to cleanup crews. Some companies are even trying to use seaweed as a raw material.

Sarg Eshwar

A Sargosaur concept of Sargassum on the coast of Mexico.

While Smith and Schenk appreciate the planet’s additional bands, both are eagerly awaiting an even more useful source of data, called hyperspectral sensing. As the name suggests, such sensors collect data across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, yielding more information about what is being detected. The planet is planning. Install such sensors. In the future, while the startup Pixxel was launched. Its first hyperspectral sensor Another firm in the space earlier this year is HyspecIQ. planning Its own satellites in 2023.

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