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Taking NASA-USGS' Landsat 8 to the beach

02 July 2014

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Some things go swimmingly with a summer trip to the beach - sunscreen, mystery novels, cold beverages and sandcastles. Other things - like aquatic algae - are best avoided.

The Landsat 8 satellite is helping researchers spot these organisms from space, gathering information that could direct beachgoers away from contaminated bays and beaches. With improved sensors and technology on the latest Landsat satellite, researchers can now distinguish slight variations in the color of coastal water due to algae or sediments to identify potential problem areas.

"We can sample everything in the blink of an eye and can say right here your yellow organic [contaminants] are looking high," said John Schott, a researcher at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. "We could use that to guide water managers' sampling, and say we think there's likely a problem along this stretch of beach."

Remote sensing satellites like Landsat 8, built by NASA and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, detect the intensity of different wavelengths of light that reflect off Earth's surface. Over forests or grasslands, for example, the satellite will detect strong signals in the green band, since chlorophyll in leaves absorbs red and blue, but reflects green.

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Image credit: NASA/USGS - Lake Ontario, as seen by Landsat 8

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