AMEC watches water for ESA

The European Space Agency has selected AMEC for a $300,000 project that will use earth observation technology to assess the health of water bodies in the Everglades and Wales.


The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected AMEC for a $300,000 project that will use earth observation technology to assess the health of water bodies in the Everglades and Wales.



The sustainability project will involve the processing of satellite imagery to measure the impact of aeration systems and other management techniques used to improve water quality. Large and sustained blooms of algae plague FloridaBay and pose a potential threat to CardiffBay. Algae blooms are caused by excessive nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients from agricultural runoff or wastewater discharges. An overabundance of algae deprives fish and other marine life of the oxygen they need to survive.



“Our intent is to demonstrate the tremendous efficiency and economy of using earth observation technology to assess water quality in historically impaired or threatened water bodies,” said Tim Conley, managing director of Earth & Environmental’s Europe operations. “Normally, this has been accomplished by taking thousands of water samples.”



Some satellites can offer 10,000 square miles of data collected simultaneously, said AMEC’s Scott Stoodley, who is assisting with the project. Stoodley, a senior environmental scientist in the Westford, Mass. office, has used remote sensing to assess water quality in water bodies throughout the world.



Earth observation will provide a means of quickly and efficiently demonstrating the results of aeration or diffuser systems and other pollution-control measures designed to prevent the development of low-oxygen conditions.



At CardiffBay, blue-green algae blooms were predicted for a 187-hectare fresh water lake that was created with the construction of a tidal barrage. AMEC developed a 650-diffuser aeration system which was installed to maintain dissolved oxygen levels, thereby discouraging algae from invading the lake and harming Atlantic salmon and sea trout. It is the largest aeration system of its type in the United Kingdom.



FloridaBay, an 850-square-mile estuary in southern Florida, had been known for its clear waters until the late 1980s when turbid water and large and sustained blooms of algae caused population reductions in pink shrimp, sponges, game fish and other wildlife. There is no diffuser system at FloridaBay, but various other pollution-control measures have been implemented as part of a Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan approved in 2000.



“Accurate and timely information on the state of the environment is needed to quantify sustainability,” said the ESA. “ESA’s Earth Observation Market Development Program, set up to build remote sensing business capacity, is responding to the needs of business by developing services to apply the new dimension of objective, wide-area and regularly updated environmental information supplied by satellites.”