Harmful algal blooms affect every coastal and Great Lakes state in the United States. Normally, algae are harmless — simple plants that form the base of aquatic food webs. But under the right conditions, algae can grow out of control causing toxic blooms that can make people sick and kill wildlife.
SkyTruth is partnering with researchers at Kent State University who have developed a sophisticated technique for detecting cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and other harmful algae in the western basin of Lake Erie — a known hotspot of harmful algal blooms. They hope to extend this work to Lake Okeechobee in Florida. But their original method had limitations: It used infrequently collected, moderate resolution 4-band multispectral satellite imagery to identify harmful blooms and the factors that facilitate their formation. SkyTruth has implemented the Kent State approach in the more accessible Google Earth Engine cloud platform, making it much easier to generate updates to the analysis, and offering the possibility of automating the update on a regular basis.