A University of Texas at Arlington environmental engineer has received a three-year, $561,730 grant to identify harmful algae blooms in fresh and salt water so that water providers can take action to contain and curb them.
The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation awarded assistant professor Hyeok Choi the grant to develop and place sensors to find these biological toxins so that they can be monitored.
“We will use satellite information to identify the best demonstration site where our sensors can be installed,” said Choi, who is in the civil engineering department. “These sensors will be able to read the microcystins or biological toxins wirelessly, then report back to us.”
Sungyong Jung, a UT Arlington associate professor of electrical engineering, is building the sensors, in cooperation with Sang-Yeon Cho of New Mexico State University and Jung-Min Park of Virginia Tech.
The Environmental Protection Agency will direct the research team to a site where there is a high concentration of biological toxins, Choi said. Researchers will deploy the sensors, often travel to the site to collect samples and measure the amount of biological toxins in that water through a laboratory process. The EPA also plans to take water samples for blind testing. That data will be compared with the data monitored and transmitted by the sensors.
Arlington is in the process of installing similar sensors in Lake Arlington. Terry Benton, assistant director of operations for the Water Utilities Department, said in October that the monitors are designed to detect contaminants ranging algae blooms to man-made toxins. That information will help staff fine-tune the water-treatment process, which could save the city on chemical and electricity costs.
"If we know what is coming into the plant, that will help us adjust our treatment processes to get the best quality of water that we can," Benton said. "Any time it rains we get run-off, which will allow pesticides and fertilizers to get in the lake. We can measure the severity and that will help dictate how we treat the water."
In early 2011, a golden algae bloom killed more than a quarter-million fish in Lake Granbury and downstream in the Brazos River.
Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, said that Choi’s work has the opportunity to dramatically improve how developing nations cope with water sources saturated with such toxins.
“Monitoring general algal bloom activities gives an idea on potential hazard while monitoring actual biological toxins gives an insight on imminent hazard,” Bardet said. “This innovation has the potential to aid anyone who uses water.”
-Patrick M. Walker