Citizen Scientists Take Flight Against Algal Blooms

The fourth largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie, borders the Canadian providence of Ontario and four U.S. states, including Ohio. It's a vital resource for Ohioans, spanning 312 miles along the state's coast -- from Toledo all the way to the city of Conneaut in Ashtabula county. But Lake Erie also faces increasing threats -- from invasive species to water quality.

Twelve million people live in the Lake Erie watershed -- and the lake provides drinking water for about eleven million of them, including three million Ohioans, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

In 2014, a toxic algae bloom shut down Toledo's water supply for three days -- and the green algae that engulfed the western half of Lake Erie in 2015 was the most severe bloom since aerial measurements began in 2002. Officials expect this summer's bloom to be the third or fourth largest in size.

There's a renewed effort to monitor the problem by a group of citizen scientists, private pilots and researchers who collect and analyze data.

Dr. Rafat Ansari, a senior scientist at NASA Glenn Research Center, spearheads the initiative, along with pilot Terry Schubert.

GPS enabled cameras are mounted along the underside of an aircraft's wings, snapping infrared and color images while pilots fly along the coastline. The hope? To alert communities of harmful algal blooms early -- and contribute to the evidence needed to combat the issue.


Rafat Ansari, Senior Scientist, NASA Glenn Research Center

Terry Schubert, Citizen Scientist & Educator

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