Science Center Objects

Water bodies surrounded by land serve as sources of fresh drinking water, play host to millions of species of fish, underwater vegetation and wildlife and maintain the vibrancy of surrounding ecosystems. These water bodies can also be hubs for recreational activities such as boating, fishing, waterskiing, swimming that boost local economies.

Algal Blooms in Lake Okeechobee

Landsat images captured in 2016 show algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee pop up during the summer. These blooms can adversely affect drinking water, recreation, tourism, and local wildlife. Credit: Landsat 8

Scientists at EROS use satellite imagery and other datasets to study a host of topics relevant to these inland lakes, rivers and streams.

The impact of change such as an increase in impervious surfaces or declines in forest cover due to logging or forest fires can increase stream flow, for example. Land Cover Continuous Change and Detection Classification (CCDC) using Landsat data combined with precipitation data can be used to locate watersheds at increased risk of flooding due to changes in land cover.

Land cover maps built using CCDC are currently being generated for the conterminous United States. These maps will be combined with runoff information to learn more about landscape processes including the effects of land cover on streamflow.

EROS is also part of a collaborative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) to detect and quantify harmful blooms of cyanobacteria within these ecosystems.

Harmful algal blooms can also release toxins that can irritate the lungs and skin, strike animals and humans ill and taint potable water.

Satellite imagery is a powerful tool for the tracking and detection of cyanobacteria and algal blooms. The Operational Land Imager on USGS/NASA Landsat satellites and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite can tease out useful information about vegetation changes in water bodies that signal harmful blooms.

One goal of the project is to move toward a national standard for bloom monitoring in freshwater and brackish water, with readings consistent across time and space, with satellite data validated by on-the ground measurements.

Rapid, automated detection of blooms can help mitigate the consequences by offering reliable data to guide remediation efforts.