Spying on Algae: Using Drones to Monitor and Predict Harmful Algae Blooms

Join us at the next Cal Maritime Scholar event, March 15 at 11:00 in ABS101. We’ll hear about the research of Dr. Wil Tsai, Mechanical Engineering, followed by Q&A led by Dr. Julie Chisholm, Culture & Communication.

Harmful algae blooms (HAB) have increased in the last several decades, resulting in public health risks and economic damage. Lake Erie, for example, is continuously monitored for HABs because the resulting contamination pollutes the water supply for cities along the lake.

Currently, the most reliable method of HAB and toxin identification is via surface water sampling, even though the local nature of this testing limits large scale monitoring and prediction. Alternatively, data from satellites can be used for larger scale monitoring, but this method is limited by image resolution and weather.

Dr. Tsai’s research uses commercially available components to build a remote sensing instrument that, in conjunction with a drone, could carry out regular remote sensing to estimate HAB concentrations over wider areas. This drone could be deployed to aid water managers and public officials in more timely decision making. In addition, this instrument would allow researchers to observe the development of  blooms at much higher spatial and temporal resolution than current remote sensing systems.





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