Harmful algal bloom characterization at ultra-high spatial and temporal resolution using small unmanned aircraft systems

Toxins (Basel). 2015 Mar 27;7(4):1065-78. doi: 10.3390/toxins7041065.


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) degrade water quality and produce toxins. The spatial distribution of HAbs may change rapidly due to variations wind, water currents, and population dynamics. Risk assessments, based on traditional sampling methods, are hampered by the sparseness of water sample data points, and delays between sampling and the availability of results. There is a need for local risk assessment and risk management at the spatial and temporal resolution relevant to local human and animal interactions at specific sites and times. Small, unmanned aircraft systems can gather color-infrared reflectance data at appropriate spatial and temporal resolutions, with full control over data collection timing, and short intervals between data gathering and result availability. Data can be interpreted qualitatively, or by generating a blue normalized difference vegetation index (BNDVI) that is correlated with cyanobacterial biomass densities at the water surface, as estimated using a buoyant packed cell volume (BPCV). Correlations between BNDVI and BPCV follow a logarithmic model, with r(2)-values under field conditions from 0.77 to 0.87. These methods provide valuable information that is complimentary to risk assessment data derived from traditional risk assessment methods, and could help to improve risk management at the local level.

MeSH terms

  • Aircraft
  • Fresh Water
  • Harmful Algal Bloom*
  • Light
  • Microcystis
  • Remote Sensing Technology*
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Water Quality