Nov 03, 2014

CSIRO and NSW to use remote sensing to map algal blooms

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New South Wales, November 3, 2014: NSW government and Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have initiated a joint-project worth $1.3 million under which optical remote sensing techniques used to identify algal blooms, reports TheLand. The new system would offer a real-time warning to the authorities to track the algae growth in the region.

Stressing on the importance of the system, NSW Water Minister Kevin Humphries said while current algae monitoring methods are reliable; they have a lag time of several days. “The idea is that once a model is appropriately tested against on-ground water sampling, satellite imagery will be used to identify and track algal levels in water bodies, providing early warning of potential harmful algal blooms,” he said.

“The new warning system will be designed so that it can be used with a range of remote sensors – such as satellites, planes, boats, bridges and buoys – and for different water sources.”

The project, which will be developed over the next two years, is aimed at reducing the impact of blooms on health, environment and regional economies.

According to the CSIRO, Australia’s inland waterways are vulnerable to outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae. Blue-green algae feed on nitrogen and phosphorus, which can come from a wide range of sources, including sewage, fertiliser run-off and animal faecal matter. The algae thrive when slow river flows combine with warm temperatures, often as a result of high water extraction and low rainfall, CSIRO said.

Contact with blue-green algae can be harmful. There have been reports of skin and eye irritations, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness or cramps by some people who have swum through algal scum or swallowed it.

Blue-green algae blooms can also cause death of livestock, domestic animals and wildlife, bad odours, fish kills, closure of water storages for drinking or recreational use and higher water treatment costs.