Scientists are testing a new tool for monitoring the health of our rivers: a high-tech contraption that tests water quality from the air.
“What we can see is just tremendous, and the quality is pretty outstanding,” researcher Nick Emanuel said. He is part of a three-member team from the University of Nebraska working in conjunction with researchers from the University of Minnesota.
Emanuel flew high above Mississippi River in a Piper Saratoga airplane Thursday and surveyed the water with a high-tech camera, a GPS monitor and a computer. The setup is worth a quarter of a million dollars, and it could be the future of water-quality testing in Minnesota’s major waterways.
“When we get on the ground we can have this processed by the next day,” Emanuel said. The camera takes pictures of the parts of the color spectrum that can’t be seen by human eyes.
The pictures could provide a more complete picture than the sporadic dip-instruments-into-the-river system that measures water quality now. They also would be very similar to pictures that have been used to monitor water quality in Minnesota lakes.
For the last three years, the state has been using images from NASA satellites to test water quality in lakes. Thursday’s test was the first time it has been used in rivers.
The new method will still need old-fashioned ground support. Researchers will still need to measure chlorophyll and sediment by hand to see what's producing the different-colored light reflections the camera sees from the sky.
“The bottom line is to help improve the quality of our lakes and rivers,” University of Minnesota researcher Leif Olmanson said.
The air tests are faster and cheaper than hand tests. And, researchers say, if results fro Thursday's trial flight is successful, the high-flying technology could produce the deepest understanding scientists have ever had about what's in Minnesota's rivers.
For more information, and to see pictures of the water quality in various Minnesota lakes, visit http://water.umn.edu/lakebrowser.html
By Scott Goldberg, KARE 11 News