Great Lakes
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, (GLERL), engineer Kyle Beadle, 32, of Brighton, pulls into the marina at Safe Harbor Toledo Beach with the SeaTrac attached to the back of his car in La Salle on Monday, Aug. 7, 2023. Audrey Richardson, Detroit Free Press

MI - Scientists hope SHARC system takes a bite out of harmful algae

"Pea soup" waters across Michigan caused by algae blooms worry not only residents, but scientists too. That’s why scientists at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor have created an uncrewed surface vehicle system that extracts algae samples and transmits data in real time.

The surface vehicle, SHARC, short for Sea Harmful Algal Research Craft, will change the game for how scientists around the world understand algae in all bodies of water.

Understanding why and when harmful algae blooms arise is important, as hundreds of thousands of people travel to dip their toes in the state's plentiful freshwater — which is a crucial economic driver for Michigan. Unfortunately, the water has become less pristine and more murky over the last decade.

“We’re seeing that the peak of the bloom is lasting longer,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research ecologist Reagan Errera said. “The blooms used to last 10 days, but now they’re lasting 30.” Errera is the project lead for the SHARC deployment.

Algae-infused waters carry health risks

The icky green water isn’t just an eyesore. Because of the toxin-producing capabilities of these blooms, the stakes are high for understanding and eventually mitigating them. If toxins are present, it can cause health complications for residents and wildlife and require additional treatment for drinking water.

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