Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013OK292B

Remote Sensing of Water Quality and Harmful Algae in Oklahomas Lakes

Institute: Oklahoma
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-03-01 End Date: 2014-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $25,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $50,000

Principal Investigators: K. Hambright, Andrew Dzialowski, Xiangming Xiao

Abstract: Oklahomas many lakes provide rich fisheries, abundant recreational activities, and a general, high-value aesthetic quality to the state, with large lakes, such as Texoma, Eufaula, and Grand Lakes, also serving as critical economic engines for their surrounding communities. Agriculture and urban and rural development continue to generate excessive nutrient inputs to many of our lakes, leading to increased frequency and magnitude of harmful algal blooms (HABs), particularly of toxic cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae). Blooms of cyanobacteria, which can produce a variety of harmful animal and human toxins, have been exacerbated by recent drought and heat conditions. While no human fatalities have yet been linked to cyanobacteria in Oklahoma, multiple cases of pet (dog) fatalities and human illnesses have been associated with cyanobacterial toxins in Oklahoma in recent years. At present, Oklahoma does not have a sufficient monitoring program in place for protecting the health of the public who visit and swim, boat, and fish in the states many lakes. In March 2012, an expert committee convened by the Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment concluded that a basic (once monthly) monitoring program for the states largest 100 lakes would require $3.5 million annually. A program designed to better provide the necessary temporal and spatial resolution for safeguarding public health would require twice or more funding and would not be economically sustainable. Because HAB issues are forecast to worsen with time, Oklahoma is in dire need of a low-cost, sustainable solution for offering real-time public protection from the threat of HABs. Remote sensing of surface water quality may offer such a solution. Space-borne remote sensing of surface water chlorophyll concentrations (as a proxy for water quality) have been in development for the past decade, but substantial improvement is required with respect to temporal and spatial resolution, and in the algorithms used for relating space-sensed solar reflectance to chlorophyll, as well as to other natural water body properties, such as suspended sediments, that also affect reflectance. Moreover, while pilot programs are underway in the Great Lakes, there are no methods currently available for estimating cyanobacteria or other harmful algae remotely. Here we propose to conduct a proof-of-concept study that will demonstrate the use of satellite-based imagery to quantify water quality and HAB abundances across space (horizontal variation) and time (annual and seasonal variation) using previous and ongoing in-situ monitoring programs on Lake Texoma and Grand Lake. This proposed project will bring together diverse expertise of academic, state, and federal scientists and engineers, will result in training one graduate and two undergraduate students, and will provide the foundation for our collaborative team to successfully compete for larger regionally-focused federal funding for developing a state-of-the-art remote sensing-based tool for providing efficient, near-real time, low-cost remote monitoring for targeting limited resources for in-situ monitoring while allowing greater coverage of lakes for public health protection in Oklahoma.