Reflecting upon our natural resources for Earth Day, this installment of the International Space Station Benefits for Humanity video series highlights a collaboration between environmental stewards, researchers and NASA to protect local water sources. Learn how a small town in northern Ohio located on Lake Erie turned to space station technology when they encountered a threat to their drinking water.
The Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) on the space station is an imaging sensor that can help detect water quality parameters such as water clarity, phytoplankton concentrations, light absorption and the distribution of cyanobacteria in the water. HICO was first designed and built by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for the Office of Naval Research to assess water quality in the coastal ocean. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the data from HICO and developed a smartphone application to help determine hazardous concentrations of contaminants in water.
“Having the HICO on the International Space Station has been the ideal test bed for our research,” said Darryl Keith, Ph.D. with the EPA.
Using HICO, water quality managers in Ohio were able to obtain near real-time data to proactively fight harmful cyanobacterial blooms in drinking water sources. Cyanobacteria toxins can cause skin rashes, headaches, nausea, liver or nervous system damage or even death. Instead of waiting for a report of a bloom, Ohio officials used the EPA app, which is still in development, to act fast to protect water quality in their town.
“This technology will reduce cost and provide near real-time information, but the big goal here is protecting humans,” said Blake Schaeffer, Ph.D. with the EPA. “If we can reduce exposures both to humans and animals, then we’ve achieved our goal.”
Though HICO successfully completed its mission in 2015, the EPA continues to build on the knowledge gained through HICO and their smartphone application to improve water quality monitoring. With the space station’s regular addition of new instruments to provide a continuous platform for Earth observation, researchers will continue to build proactive environmental protection applications that benefit all life on Earth.