Tue May 14, 2013
New Breed Of Satellite Will Monitor Water Quality Of Wisconsin's Lakes
For more than 30 years, satellites have been checking the water quality of Wisconsin’s lakes. Now, new satellites will take a closer look.
These orbiting eyes can measure water clarity in Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes. Department of Natural Resources research scientist Steve Greb says the snapshots can’t measure everything, but they can detect algae, chlorophyll, suspended solids and organic things.
“What it can’t detect is things like pesticides, things like PCBs, things like heavy metals. So it’s one of the tools in the toolbox. So that’s why the new generation of satellites won’t tell us just what the overall water clarity is like, but also tell us what the make-up of that water is.”
That new generation of satellites will be launched next year by the European Space Agency.
Without the satellites, Greb says it would be just about impossible to check all 15,000 lakes from the ground. He says satellites can gather information on about 8,000 lakes a year. And he says they can spot trouble quickly.
“Some lakes have improved, some lakes have gotten worse. Probably the majority of lakes haven’t shown a statistical trend or change in water clarity. One of the fun things now of getting all this information for a number of lakes over a long time period is that we can start to use this information to look at trends.”
But Greb says Earthlings are still needed. Hundreds of volunteers are used every summer to verify what the eye in the sky is seeing and test for the things it can’t see.