NASA deploys plane to study algae bloom

NASA has taken to the air in the fight against harmful algal blooms, stepping up flights that track the blooms in western Lake Erie.

“We’re planning to fly kind of hot and heavy the next two weeks,” said Frank Jennings, a spokesman for NASA Glenn Research Station in Cleveland…

Jennings explained that for the last three years, NASA has been flying a former Navy aircraft, a Lockheed Martin S-3 Viking, carrying out research to aid the NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and academic partners that include Kent State University, the University of Toledo and the Michigan Tech Research Institute.

Flights had been planned in August, anyway, but when Toledo asked its residents last weekend not to drink the water, the flights were moved up, Jennings said.

“The nice thing about the aircraft is, it’s designed to carry a heavy payload,” Jennings said.

When it was in the service, the plane was used for stalking submarines. NASA retrofitted it with spectral imaging sensors that capture information about the lake’s surface.

“It was originally developed to characterize dust on Mars,” Jennings said. “As times have gone by, they have found other uses for this type of equipment.”

The equipment takes spectral images of the water, not photographs, he said.

“Different particles within the water will show up in different colors, so they can distinguish between good algae and bad algae,” he said.

The new flights began Tuesday, he said. The plane also flew Wednesday and was scheduled to fly again Thursday and Friday.

The plane goes back and forth over the lake, concentrating particularly on water intake locations for cities from Cleveland to Toledo, including Sandusky, Jennings said. It has flown at heights of 3,500 feet, 4,000 feet, 7,500 feet and 10,500 feet.

The plane can provide information that might be missed by NOAA’s satellite photos, particularly when cloud cover makes conditions tough for satellites, he said.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, said she’s pleased NASA has stepped up.

“I deeply appreciate NASA Glenn Director Jim Free for stepping forward to lend assistance to our community as we continue to grapple with the serious conditions in the Western Basin,” she said.

Kaptur’s district stretches from Toledo to the Cleveland area. Her office said the district includes NASA Glenn.


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