Can infrared technology be used to track blue-green algae?

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is partnering with Discovery Air Fire Services to research blue-green algae.

Researchers determining exactly the kind of wavelengths needed to detect blue-green algae — not just algae

It's not uncommon to hear about lakes in the Sudbury area having blue-green algae in them. It can produce toxins that can make people sick. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press)

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is partnering with Discovery Air Fire Services to research blue-green algae.

The green slime appears in lakes, and can produce toxins that can make people sick.

A professor with the school said the research will focus on where the blooms are happening — and where they move on a lake.

Greg Ross said infrared technology on planes is being used in the research.

"What we've done recently is demonstrated that those cameras, those sensors that are mounted on an aircraft, not only can see heat and a heat signature coming off a forest fire, but they can also be used to identify blue-green algae," he told CBC News.

Currently, researchers say there really isn't a good way to identify where blue-green algae blooms are happening. Tracking them can be difficult because the blooms aren't anchored in a lake like some weeds are. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Ross said accessing data by aircraft could allow researchers to be able to see if there is blue-green algae present on lakes around the entire city.

Ross said so far, the results look promising when it comes to reporting the algae, including "where it's going to be a problem, and giving people the opportunity to avoid it."

Currently researchers are determining exactly the types of wavelengths are needed to detect blue-green algae. To do this, they are growing the algae in tanks, so they can put their cameras to the test when it comes to detecting blue-green algae and not other species of algae.

Last week, the research project received $1 million from the province in funding to continue studying the topic.

Blue-green algae is a problem in Greater Sudbury. It can lead to beach closures, affect access to drinking water, impact property values, and so on. (Claude Gagnon/ ICI-Radio Canada)

With files from Martha Dillman. Edited/packaged by Wendy Bird.


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