Bio-optical properties of cyanobacteria blooms in western Lake Erie

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Abstract

There is a growing use of remote sensing observations for detecting and quantifying freshwater cyanobacteria populations, yet the inherent optical properties of these communities in natural settings, fundamental to bio-optical algorithms, are not well known. Toward bridging this knowledge gap, we measured a full complement of optical properties in western Lake Erie during cyanobacteria blooms in the summers of 2013 and 2014. Our measurements focus attention on the optical uniqueness of cyanobacteria blooms, which have consequences for remote sensing and bio-optical modeling. We found the cyanobacteria blooms in the western basin during our field work were dominated by Microcystis, while the waters in the adjacent central basin were dominated by Planktothrix. Chlorophyll concentrations ranged from 1 to over 135 μg/L across the study area with the highest concentrations associated with Microcystis in the western basin. We observed large, amorphous colonial Microcystis structures in the bloom area characterized by high phytoplankton absorption and high scattering coefficients with a mean particle backscatter ratio at 443 nm > 0.03, which is higher than other plankton types and more comparable to suspended inorganic sediments. While our samples contained mixtures of both, our analysis suggests high contributions to the measured scatter and backscatter coefficients from cyanobacteria. Our measurements provide new insights into the optical properties of cyanobacteria blooms, and indicate that current semi-analytic models are likely to have problems resolving a closed solution in these types of waters as many of our observations are beyond the range of existing model components. We believe that different algorithm or model approaches are needed for these conditions, specifically for phytoplankton absorption and particle backscatter components. From a remote sensing perspective, this presents a challenge not only in terms of a need for new algorithms, but also for determining when to apply the best algorithm for a given situation. These results are new in the sense that they represent a complete description of the optical properties of freshwater cyanobacteria blooms, and are likely to be representative of bloom conditions for other systems containing Microcystis cells and colonies.

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Moore, T. S., Mouw, C. B., Sullivan, J. M., Twardowski, M. S., Burtner, A. M., Ciochetto, A. B., … Weidemann, A. (2017). Bio-optical properties of cyanobacteria blooms in western Lake Erie. Frontiers in Marine Science, 4(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2017.00300

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