image credit: NASA

Cleveland, Ohio’s NASA Glenn Research Center has been given a special task with the recent Toledo water crisis. NASA will now use its S-3 aircraft’s x-ray imaging technology to help study Lake Erie and detect beneficial or harmful algae blooms in the Great Lakes region. The NASA Glenn Research Center will study Lake Erie throughout the entire month of August to detect algae activity and watch its progress. “The imaging is also like an X-ray of Lake Erie. It allows us to better characterize the biological components (of the algal blooms) and can tell us if we’re seeing good algae or bad algae,” said NASA public affairs specialist Frank Jennings.

While the x-ray imaging technology of the S-3 aircraft is impressive enough to spot the good algae and the bad algae, it can also dive beneath cloud cover to get an excellent view of Lake Erie.

Perhaps NASA’s inspection of Lake Erie will help detect whether or not the algae bloom issue will remain a problem. This past weekend, Toledo residents were under a tap water ban as water studies at a Water Plant showed the presence of the toxin microcystin in the water. Microcystin is said to be most effective against the elderly and pregnant women, but it can cause liver and kidney damage, as well as nausea, headache, and diarrhea. Residents had to drink bottled water for three days, and Toledo’s mayor promised to get to the bottom of the algae bloom problem.

The early consensus on the algae bloom is that it was caused by the presence of fertilizer and septic tank or sewer problems.

Lake Erie’s algae bloom arrived earlier this year, with most researchers forecasting that the bloom would not appear until the end of August. Even with NASA on the case, most Toledo residents still find tap water hard to swallow.