Algae Monitoring by Satellite is Focus of New Collaborative Effort by USGS, EPA, NOAA, and NASA Announced in April 2015

On April 7, 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced a new effort by four federal agencies to use satellite information to inform water-resource managers and the public about toxic or nuisance algal blooms in freshwater areas.  Along with the USGS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be involved in the $3.6-million project.

Following is an excerpt from the USGS’ 4/7/15 news release on the effort, Multiple Satellite Eyes to Track Algal Threat to U.S. Freshwater: “Using methods and technology established to analyze ocean color satellite data, scientists from the four agencies will work to develop an early warning indicator for toxic and nuisance algal blooms in freshwater systems and build an information distribution system to expedite public health advisories.  …Ocean color satellite data are currently available to scientists, but are not routinely processed and produced in formats that help state and local environmental and water quality managers.  Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the partner agencies will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals.”

The USGS news release notes that “the cost of freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is estimated at $64 million annually,” and cites as an example the August 2014 algal bloom on Lake Eire that led to a temporary lack of water for some 400,000 residents of the Toledo, Ohio, area.  A recent Virginia example comes from Danville (Eateries, customers left with bad taste as Danville water issues continue, Danville Register & Bee, 4/8/15), where algal blooms in early 2015 on the Dan River, and possibly on its tributary the Smith River, have caused taste and odor problems for the city’s water-supply plant and for local residents and businesses.

USGS information about harmful algal blooms is available online at

Lake Eire

Satellite photo of algal bloom on Lake Eire, August 1, 2014. Photo accessed at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Center Web site,, 4/9/15.

New Rive algae

Algae on the New River in Montgomery County, Va., June 15, 2008.

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