NOAA research lab uses underwater vessel to monitor algal blooms

NOAA research lab uses underwater vessel to monitor algal blooms

They call it MACAI.

It's a torpedo-looking vessel that acts as an underwater laboratory.

It spent six days gathering information about microsystin and the algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie before being recovered Monday afternoon.

"The vehicle has been wandering around the western basin measuring the toxicity of the harmful algal bloom that's out there right now," said Steve Ruberg, an observing systems researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"So this can stay out in pretty much any kind of weather out there and it can collect data just 24/7 and feed it back to the scientists in near real-time," said Brian Kieft, a software engineer with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. "And they can make decisions based on that data, and follow these interesting patches of water, and in this case following a bloom of algae, seeing where it goes and how it develops."

It's smaller and more cost-effective than a boat with scientists aboard.

Because of MACAI, those scientists can be back on land discovering information and reacting as necessary.

"It's really these really tight temporal and spatial events that happen out there that these robots are great at capturing," Kieft said. "Things move very quickly. The wind can change, it can come up, it can calm down, and that really affects what's happening out there on the water."

As for what it found, the data is yet to be fully analyzed, but there are already positive preliminary results.

"We were able to collect some samples along some bloom edges, and we were able to determine high and low concentrations," Ruberg said.

It's an important task at hand: using technology to explore, analyze and ultimately help solve a critical problem.

"It's a really big deal for folks in this area and for this lake, for everything from fisheries to drinking water, and we're hoping these robots can help," Kieft said.

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