Can Satellites Really Find Contaminated Water?


During the summer months, particularly, we here in Oregon have had to deal with Blue-Green Algae blooms that can make a pristine reservoir or lake become dangerous for people and pets.

Dexter Lake With Algae Bloom
Dexter Lake July 4th 2013 During Blue-green Algae Bloom | Photo by Tim Chuey

In June 2014 I wrote an article It’s Easier Being Green Than Blue-green which explained the problems caused by the growth of Blue-green Algae in our local bodies of fresh water.

A recent press release dated April 7, 1015 from the PR Newswire for Journalists-US Newswire explains that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NASA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are cooperating to use satellite data that was produced to study ocean biology to glean information that will help protect the public from the dangerous Blue-green fresh water algae blooms. The 3.6-million dollar project is supposed to set up an early warning indicator for both toxic and nuisance algae blooms and a system to distribute prompt and accurate public health advisories.

Blue-green Algae Waves
Algae Waves | Photo by

I think it is a good idea to repeat the explanation of Blue-green Algae from my previous article to show just how dangerous it can be. “The Oregon Health Authority gives a much simpler definition of algae for those of us who aren’t plant biologists. They say ‘algae are microscopic plants that grow naturally in oceans and fresh water. Under certain conditions, some algae can grow into a large visible mass called a bloom.’ The blue-green is one of the algae that produces toxins (poisons) that can cause serious illness or death in humans and even pets, wildlife, and livestock.”

Back to the press release which explains that fresh water that has been degraded by algae blooms costs an estimated 64-million dollars annually in the United States. More than 400,000 residents of Toledo Ohio were banned from drinking from the city’s water supply in August 2014 due to the algae bloom contamination of Lake Erie.

Satellite View Of Algae
Satellite View Of Algae Bloom On Lake Erie In 2011| Photo by USGS/NASA Earth Observatory

According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden “The vantage point of space not only contributes to a better understanding of our home planet, it helps improve lives around the world.” “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety.”

Algae naturally occur in the ocean and fresh water under certain environmental conditions and  can multiply quickly producing the potentially dangerous bloom. Holly Bamford, Acting NOAA assistant secretary for conservation and management and deputy administrator in Washington, D.C. explained “Observing harmful algae is critical to understanding, managing, and forecasting these blooms.” “This collaboration will assure that NOAA’s efforts will assist the coastal and inland public health officials and managers across the country to distribute the information to the community in an easily understandable fashion, making then more resilient to environmental events.”

In this modern age you might ask “Is there an app for that?” Well, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy reveled “Working with other federal agencies, we are leveraging our scientific expertise, technology and data to create a mobile app to help water managers make important decisions to reduce negative impacts related to harmful algae blooms, which have been increasingly affecting our water bodies due to climate change.”

The scientists say that the way we use our land, through urban growth and farming activities, also changes the amount of nutrients and sediment that enter our watersheds thus influencing the cynobacterial growth from the algae.

We are quickly approaching the warmer weather patterns that can enhance local algae growth. I will continue to post any Blue-green algae bloom advisories for waterways in Oregon as soon as they are issued in the Advisories section of my weather forecasts here at Eugene Daily News.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected]


March 11 – Morning Headlines


Here are this mornings local headlines:

Tim Chuey Weather
A drier day today, but it won’t last long. The rain chance will return by late tonight.
Tsunami Warning for the Oregon Coast
Waves of more than 6 feet may hit spots along the Oregon coast as the ocean surges after a massive earthquake in Japan. The first waves are projected to hit approximately 7:15 – 7:30 a.m. today. Much larger waves are possible later in the day.
Fern Ridge’s ballot is heavy
The Fern Ridge School District will two property tax measures on the May 17 ballot.
Critics say BPA drops ball while juggling its power
So much electricity flooded Pacific Northwest powerlines last spring, that this spring, a federal agency wants the option of turning off wind turbines to keep the system from overloading. Thank goodness our rates haven’t gone up.
Satellite TV companies top Oregon complaint list
A new report released by the Attorney General’s Office put the spotlight on companies that have been scamming Oregonians for the past year.
Athlete Exclusive Parking Lot
The University of Oregon is building a new parking lot for student athletes, support absent.
University senior Pennington dead at 22
University senior and business administration major Alexis Pennington, 22, died of brain swelling Sunday evening at Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in Springfield