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NASA Technologies Make a Splash

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) called HyDRUS monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

HABs pose significant threats to humans and wildlife in freshwater lakes

HyDRUS UAV with representatives from Sinclair Community College and Altavian, Inc. in the Maumee Bay Area

Water, critical to life, is both a great challenge and a great opportunity. The Northeast United States and Eastern Canada rely heavily on the Great Lakes. They are the most important freshwater resource, with more than 60 million people in the region using it for drinking water, transportation, recreation, food production, and manufacturing. The Great Lakes:

  • Contain over 84% of North America’s surface fresh water
  • Provide approximately 21% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water
  • Offer more than 500 beaches for recreation
  • Supply drinking water to more than 40 million U.S. and Canadian citizens
  • Provide 56 billion gallons of water daily for municipal, agricultural, and industrial use

The Problem

Several years ago, the city of Toledo, Ohio and Southeast Michigan suffered a major water crisis. Tests results confirmed the presence of unsafe levels of the algal toxin Microcystin in the drinking water. The advisory left more than 400,000 people in the region without drinking water. These numbers demonstrate the imperative nature of monitoring the Lakes to address toxic conditions and underscores the importance of improving water technologies.

The Solution

NASA’s Glenn Research Center (GRC) partnered with the National Oceanic the Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GERL) as well as a number of local and regional universities to address the recurrence of harmful algal bloom (HAB) events in the Great Lakes. HABs—which pose significant threats to humans and wildlife—form, spread, and disappear across the Great Lakes within a 4 to 8-week time period in late summer. (See a fact sheet about detecting HABs here)

Hyperspectral imaging flight campaign

Although most Americans won’t be thinking about HABs this summer, researchers from GRC in Cleveland are. The partnership between GRC, and NOAA’s GLERL continues to combat the increasingly pervasive growth of HABs with an innovative hyperspectral imaging technology that provides researchers a clear picture of the toxic algae. Developed and built at GRC, the hyperspectral imager divides the electromagnetic spectrum into a multitude of bands (rather than the very limited number of bands visible to the human eye), enabling scientists to identify a "spectral signature" that pinpoints the presence of the microcystis algae. GRC, with its specialized aircraft and remote sensing capabilities, attached two hyperspectral imagers to a Twin Otter that flew over the Great Lakes and inland bodies of water for data collection.

NASA’s Applied Sciences Program in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters sponsors the remote-sensing project, one of the many the agency has developed to observe and record how Earth’s interconnected natural systems is changing. The agency shares this knowledge and works with institutions in the U.S. and round the world to improve understanding and protect our home planet.

NASA GRC added a new capability to monitor HABs. This includes a lightweight hyperspectral imaging system aboard an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) called HyDRUS. HyDRUS flew over the Maumee Bay Area in an earlier HABs flight campaign in collaboration with Sinclair Community College and Altavian, Inc. Last year in collaboration with researchers from University of Toledo and Kent State University, HyDRUS will fly over the Great Lakes for data collection.

Regional Economic Development

The Regional Economic Development (RED) team at GRC has been working with the Cleveland Water Alliance to help protect and improve the water systems in communities adjacent to Lake Erie. A coordinated series of outreach events brought together coders, developers, engineers and water experts to generate solutions to Lake Erie’s biggest challenges – from invasive species to algal blooms and toxic agricultural waste. The winning teams were announced at the Eric Hack event held last year at Cleveland’s Global Center for Health Innovation.

States Laurie Stauber, Manager of GRC’s RED Team and NASA’s Water Initiative Lead, "One of NASA’s goal in this initiative is to share our intellect, technologies and other capabilities for freshwater solutions for Lake Erie, the Great Lakes and the nation. We are building a portfolio of the agency’s water capabilities and technologies in order to support agency goals." GRC’s RED team is currently planning a tech connect event with The Water Council of Milwaukee, focused solely on water technology issues.

To find out more about how to work with the RED team, visit: https://www.grc.nasa.gov/regecondev or contact them at: GRC-RED@mail.nasa.gov.

Water purification technology combats water issues

The high-voltage water purification method, invented and developed by Dr. Isaiah M. Blankson and Dr. Grigory Adamovsky of GRC, and Dr. John E. Foster, of the University of Michigan was recently licensed by SageGuard Solutions to clean up contaminated water. The partially exclusive commercial license agreement is for a high-voltage water purification method that relies on electricity to remove contaminants, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, algae, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and bio-waste, from water without the use of chemicals or filters.

"Although 71% of this planet is covered in water, only 4% of it is suitable for sustaining land-based life. As the population of this planet grows, so does the wastewater created by all these people," said SageGuard Solutions CEO Ray Erker. "Fresh water is a limited commodity that is more valuable than any precious metal, gem, or even crude oil. None of those commodities can be consumed to sustain life like water can be. With NASA’s plasma technology, we can realize the economic benefits of processing new, life sustaining water for every person on this planet."

Several NASA Centers have developed water related technologies that are now available for licensing:

NASA technologies and licensing info:

To access NASA’s full patent portfolio available for licensing, visit: https://technology.nasa.gov/patents

To learn more about other technologies available for licensing at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, visit: http://technology.grc.nasa.gov

Video features on water technologies:

Purifying the water with plasma
Optics and Algal Blooms: Meet Maker Roger Tokars

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