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Smart Solutions for Challenging Environments


C-CORE's New Water Quality Service

Space-based monitoring of algae blooms on Earth

Algae blooms present a serious threat to water quality and water system health. Flourishing in waters with an abundance of nutrients, particularly some phosphates, algae grows very quickly but dies and decays with equal speed, rapidly consuming the oxygen in the water. Starved of oxygen, plants and animals die off and the lake ecosystem collapses. Through the Water Quality Monitoring of Lake Winnipeg  project supported by the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA’s) Earth Observation Applications Development Program (EOADP), C-CORE and its partners developed an automated software process for detecting chlorophyll-a (indicating the presence of algae) from satellite imagery .


ABOVE: C-CORE’s Water Quality Monitoring Service portal

Lake Winnipeg is the tenth largest freshwater body in the world. Its water quality is declining rapidly, with human activity within the watershed an important contributing factor. To support research into the sustainability of the lake’s ecosystem and efforts to track its response to land use management strategies, C-CORE personnel worked with Noetix Research, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Earth Observations Science to develop tools and techniques for using satellite sensor data to generate water quality maps. These maps assisted in the development and validation of a water quality model for Lake Winnipeg. They also complement existing on-site monitoring programs and facilitate public information initiatives such as boil water and beach closure advisories.

Although developed for Lake Winnipeg, C‑CORE’s Water Quality Monitoring System can be applied to any large freshwater body on the planet. Users of the service can log in here to a secure data access and delivery system to view and download map products.

This project developed tools for processing MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) satellite data to generate 300m-resolution agal bloom maps of Lake Winnipeg every other day. However, when communication with the ENVISAT satellite ceased in April 2012, the MERIS data stream was lost and the project team went on to develop tools for processing Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite data to generate 1 km-resolution algal maps every 24-48 hours. 

ABOVE: Water Quality Monitoring Service map products derived from MODIS data, 16 August 2014

The project was further expanded to upgrade the processing algorithm (developed by the University of Manitoba) to include a simulated data stream from the Ocean and Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) aboard the soon-to-be-launched Sentinel-3 satellite. The higher spectral resolution of the OLCI bands will enable C‑CORE to discriminate toxin-producing cyanobacteria from other algal groups and generate maps showing the presence of cyanobacteria, as well as those indicating chlorophyll-a.