Researches aim to improve Iowa's water quality with high tech drone

The drone is a standard octocopter but equipped with high tech to search potentially harmful algae in lakes and waterways.

A new project at the University of Iowa's college of engineering is creating new ways to analyze and sample potential dangerous algae in lakes and water ways across the state. The group of researches and students utilizes a drone to quickly assess a body of water by taking water temperature readings and other date to analyze the potential for harm.

"We wanted to be able to detect those in a more economical and relative quick response way in particular for harmful which are toxic producing algae," Corey Markfort, an assistant professor at the university and project lead of the drone project said.

Markfort has worked with the drone as part of his work since 2016. Originally designed to analyze wake patterns of wind farms, the drone already had surface observation tools built in. Those tools can now be used to see if algae can harm drinking water resources for humans and livestock and the potential to hurt beach goers.

"It allows us to sample large areas so it may be that algae are concentrated to certain parts of the lake where you are not sampling," Markfort said. "Harmful algae bloom have been on an increase Iowa we have seen increases in beach closures and so it is a concern and we want to try to understand that better."

The drone would allow researches to forgo lengthy analysis in the lab and react immediately to algae infestations sometimes even before they can spread. Sarah Douglas started the graduate program called sustainable water development at the University in April. She will start working on the drone project this fall and is excited to utilize technology to help others.

"We wouldn't be able to do it without the drone technology," Douglas says. "It's really what I want to do I want to be able to help people and make sure they are safe and go out in these lakes and enjoy their time and really appreciate the environment and want to take better care for it."

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