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Monitoring Blue-Green Algae Blooms in Alberta Using Satellite Imagery

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A team of specialists enhances comprehension of blue-green algae proliferation in Alberta’s lakes by merging satellite innovation with simultaneous water sampling. This venture, supported by Alberta Innovates, unites entities, including the Alberta Lake Management Society (ALMS), the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), and University of Alberta researcher Rolf Vinebrooke.

The initiative oversees six Alberta lakes—Pigeon Lake, Sylvan Lake, Wabamun Lake, Nakamun Lake, Ethel Lake, and Lac la Biche—with aspirations of creating a replicable model or algorithm for diverse lakes. Each satellite passing over these lakes coincides with the collection of water samples, augmenting insight into algae concentrations.

Moreover, by combining satellite technology with concurrent water sampling, experts in Alberta are collaborating with groups like ALMS, ABMI, and researcher Rolf Vinebrooke to analyze blue-green algae expansion in lakes. This Alberta Innovates-funded initiative focuses on six lakes – Pigeon Lake, Sylvan Lake, Wabamun Lake, Nakamun Lake, Ethel Lake, and Lac la Biche – to create a versatile model for broader applications.

Unlike previous water sampling methods, which can’t always process on time, satellite imagery can help provide a better overall picture of what’s happening in a lake. “Blue-green algal blooms can be very dynamic,” said Vinebrooke, a U of A’s Department of Biological Sciences professor.

“They can be there one day and gone the next… satellite imagery data, once we’ve got a ground truth and the algorithms constructed, can provide near real-time estimates of how bad the blooms are on various different lakes.”

Satellite Insights and Trends in Alberta’s Lakes

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can emerge in sluggish or still water, generating toxins harmful to humans, animals, and wildlife. Algae growth thrives in nitrogen and phosphorus-rich water.

Alberta Health Services presently issues numerous cyanobacteria alerts for provincial lakes. The collected data, researchers assert, will aid lake management groups in comprehending situations and inform phosphorus management strategies to curtail blooms.

In addition, Vinebrooke noted that once sufficient data is amassed, compared prior satellite images will yield a more comprehensive grasp of lake blooms, enabling trend tracking.

“There’s a persistent query, I believe, among many in Alberta and North America – are these harmful algal blooms truly increasing in frequency?” he inquired. “Or does it just seem that way due to heightened environmental awareness? This offers a quantitative resolution.”

Fiona Gregory, leading the earth observation analysis aspect of the project, has highlighted the difficulties researchers face in tracking trends due to the absence of continuous data. She takes the findings from the lake sampling program and juxtaposes them with satellite imagery. This process involves establishing connections and subsequently applying the model to satellite data.

What’s more, Gregory explained, “Sampling, at best, provides a snapshot in time. Besides, it is possible to conduct it only a few times a year. However, with satellite modeling, we aim to gain insights into the ongoing developments throughout the season.”

Navigating Logistical Challenges with Sentinel-2 Satellite

Although the project’s premise appears simple, several logistical hurdles arise. The designated satellite, Sentinel-2, doesn’t orbit Alberta daily, leaving a limited timeframe for data collection.

ALMS’s executive director Bradley Peter explained, “The satellite we’re utilizing, Sentinel-2, revisits about every five days. Hence, we synchronize our lake sampling – often with volunteers operating boats – to coincide with these flyovers.”

Moreover, Peter emphasized the need for clear days for sampling, devoid of clouds or smoke that could obscure images.

Ultimately, the amassed data will be accessible via an online mapping tool. This resource will allow the public to access information about the six targeted lakes and potentially other lakes in Alberta, providing precise insights into algae blooms.

Leveraging Google Earth Engine, the initiative processes substantial satellite imagery volumes efficiently.

Furthermore, this endeavor builds on the triumph of a similar pilot scheme launched in 2019, overseeing Pigeon Lake. The data for Pigeon Lake is already accessible online, displaying chlorophyll-a concentration indicative of algae presence.

AHS Cautions Against Water Contact During Blue-Green Algae Alerts

Avoid water with blue-green algae advisories, warns AHS. Cyanobacteria can be harmful and even fatal to pets. Exposure may lead to skin irritation, fever, nausea, and more.

Lastly, as of Aug. 25, AHS has issued advisories for these lakes:

  • Pigeon Lake
  • Haunted Lake
  • Wizard Lake
  • Alix Lake
  • Buck Lake
  • Moonshine Lake
  • Bonnie Lake
  • Winagami Lake
  • Crow Lake
  • Wabamun Lake
  • Matchayaw (Devil’s) Lake
  • Fork Lake
  • Garner Lake
  • Floating stone Lake
  • Wapasu Lake
  • Goose Lake
  • Hastings Lake
  • Kehewin Lake
  • Elinor Lake
  • Reesor Lake
  • Nakamun Lake
  • Sturgeon Lake
  • Hutch Lake
  • Vermilion Lake
  • Stoney Lake
  • Eagle Lake
  • Square Lake
  • Lac Ste. Anne
  • Thunder Lake
  • Astotin Lake
  • Little Fish Lake
  • Severn Dam Reservoir
  • Lac la Biche
  • Isle Lake
  • Enchant Municipal Park
  • Lower Therien Lake
  • Gregoire Lake
  • Twin Valley Reservoir
  • Lessard Lake
  • Steele Lake
  • Skeleton Lake
  • Baptiste Lake
  • Pine Lake
  • Moose Lake
  • Muriel Lake

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