NASA assists in fight against algal blooms

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Officials in Ohio have a new partner in battling devastating algal blooms discovered in the Toledo area of Lake Erie.

Remote S-3 aircraft will allow NASA Glenn Research Center officials to diagnose blooms not yet detected and help predict where the harmful algae may occur in the future.

The imaging is almost like an X-ray of Lake Erie,” NASA Public Affairs Specialist Frank Jennings told “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.”

Researchers are now flying the craft over the western basin of Lake Erie and will continue throughout the month. The goal is to stop the spread of blue-green blooms containing microcystin, the algae that caused the recent drinking water crisis in Toledo. Unlike good algae, which play a vital role in the lake, blue-green toxins can play havoc on the ecosystem as algae blankets the water. In humans, microcystin causes skin and stomach problems and liver damage.

Officials say such conditions will now be more easily photographed as NASA Gleen’s S-3 aircraft is capable of producing quality photographs through clouds, fog and rain.

The program is a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which began using satellite imagery to detect algal blooms in 2011, when a massive bloom made its way to Cleveland. Many of those images were hampered by inclement weather.

The new remote technology was developed by NASA as part of a Mars exploration project.

Fresh water is one of the Earth’s most precious commodities and is essential to our civilization’s survival,” said John Lekki, a NASA engineer. “Our collaboration with NOAA, and now the U.S. Naval Research Lab in this effort, will increase our understanding of how to confront this significant environmental and human health threat.”

The project couldn’t have come at a better time, officials say. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) begin spreading rapidly in late August and peak through September and October. Each is fueled by the phosphorus of agricultural fertilizer, raw sewage and animal waste that make their way to lakes and rivers by way of storm water. Such runoff has been a problem with heavy rains in climate change around the Great Lakes in recent years.

Meanwhile, officials in Wisconsin continue their fight to control a massive carp kill in the Rock River caused by an outbreak of koi herpes virus (KHV), known only to koi and common carp. The virus has killed in the Great Lakes region in the past, but this marks the first time it has reached Wisconsin. Officials say it is unlikely the outbreak will spread to other states. Most fish die within two days of infection. The Rock River outbreak is believed to have originated at the Horicon Marsh, near Horicon, Wisconsin. How KHV arrived remains unknown. The virus is known to lie dormant in some fish, but large outbreaks caused by carriers are not common.

An abundance of carp can lead to algal blooms, as the fish destroy macrophytes. In the Great Lakes, the presence of Asian bighead carp is lending to problems officials believe could be devastating if the species is not eliminated from the Mississippi River system.

So far, bighead carp have not been found in the Rock River, although common carp are abundant.

Until recent years, carp were not found in Lake Erie. That changed in 2012, when grass carp arrived from the Sandusky River.

From the Aug. 13-19, 2014, issue

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