New site posts daily satellite photos of Lake Erie algal blooms

There’s a new way to keep track of the harmful algal blooms growing in Lake Erie.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency that tracks blooms, announced Monday it has begun posting satellite images every day on the Internet.

The URL for the site is a bit long, but here is a shorter link: bit.ly/2OGsykV. Or try using Google to search for “Cyanobacteria Algal Bloom from Satellite in Western Lake Erie basin.”

The NOAA explained it will use the site to post the 10 most-useful satellite photographs from the previous 14 days.

On Monday, the photographs included two images taken on Sunday by the Copernicus Sentinel satellite.

One was a true color image, showing blue green algal blooms in much of Lake Erie, including Sandusky Bay. The other used various colors to show where the bloom is most intense. The website shows a color bar under the image showing how to interpret the colors.

Site visitors are invited to toggle from one photo to another, using arrows on the page, and download any images they like.

Rick Stumpf, a NOAA oceanographer and algal bloom expert, said Monday the images are taken by two different satellites, the Copernicus Sentinel 3A, launched in 2016 by a Russian rocket, and Copericus Sentinel 3B, launched in 2018.

The Copernicus Sentinel satellites are put into orbit by the European Union. The Sentinel 3 series is particularly good “for looking at things that color the water,” Stumpf said.

The photographs are taken from about 500 miles above the surface of the earth, with each pixel representing a width of about 300 meters. The photos of Lake Erie are taken between 10:30-11:30 a.m. each morning, Stumpf said.

The photographs include notations for wind speed and the direction of the wind. The photo posted Monday showed a wind speed of 4.9 mph, with the wind coming out of the north.

Winds below 5 mph are most likely to promote scum formation, while winds about 15 mph tend to eliminate scum except on lake surfaces protected from the wind, NOAA explains.

Clicking on the “Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring System” link at the top of the page reveals other parts of the U.S. where blooms can be tracked, including Saginaw Bay, Mich., and Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

The satellite imaging program was developed for Lake Erie and now is used for much of the U.S., Stumpf said.

“Lake Erie is important from a national perspective,” said Stumpf, who is based in Maryland but travels often to Lake Erie’s Ohio coast and other algal bloom hotspots.

The new satellite imaging site is only the latest government effort to share images and information about Lake Erie algal blooms.

In early July, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the release of the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN) app for Android smartphones. The app can be used to monitor harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and other U.S. locations.

NOAA also has a free email bulletin, the “Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin,” available to anyone who chooses to sign up for it. Stumpf launched the bulletin in 2009. The bulletin normally is sent out twice a week, on Monday and Thursday. To subscribe, go to public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNOAANOS/subscriber/new.

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