Boaters-photographers wanted for NASA’s water quality pilot project

If you enjoy taking scenic photos from your boat, kayak, or canoe (who doesn’t !?), researchers might use your help for a new water monitoring project.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Md., Is looking for volunteers to use an app to take photos of the water and sky, as well as take water samples. The SERC wants photos to be taken at least 100 feet from shore, especially on the South, West, Rhode and Severn Rivers. Anyone with a boat, canoe, two-person kayaks, or even a long dock can help.

The Chesapeake Water Watch Pilot Project is a partnership between SERC and NASA with the help of river wardens and citizen scientists on the water. What does NASA have to do with water quality monitoring? Today, their satellites are so technologically advanced that they can capture changes in water quality on camera. Widely used in the Chesapeake area, the satellites could give researchers a comprehensive picture of chlorophyll a, water clarity, and colored dissolved organic matter. As the SERC explains, “These large-scale data sets from satellites would provide a better understanding of global environmental conditions to support aquatic life and economic and recreational activities. “

But the information collected by satellites must be verified with measurements from the ground. Citizen scientists are important for ‘field verification’, informing about adjustments that need to be made and even raising awareness of NASA’s environmental plans. By combining water level sampling with satellites providing large-scale snapshots of water quality, researchers will have the most complete picture of the health of Chesapeake Bay. As a pilot project, if the program is successful, it could potentially be used to monitor coastal waters around the world.

Volunteers and researchers can help with monitoring in some waters. First, volunteers take photos in the field using the Hydrocolor app, which analyzes the photos to give researchers measurements of turbidity and reflectance. Second, volunteers take water samples, which are then tested for chlorophyll, turbidity, and dissolved organic matter.

This data is analyzed and compared to the same information collected by satellites in space to help determine its accuracy.

All interested volunteer photographers / samplers should contact [email protected]. As always, but especially now that the water temperature is getting colder, wear your life jacket if you are going out on the water to help.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

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Tommy Dodd

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