Red tides caused by Karenia brevis (K. brevis) in the Gulf of Mexico can have a devastating effect on coastal communities, where severe blooms can cause millions of dollars in tourism losses and send people with chronic respiratory diseases to their local emergency rooms.
Now, a three-year $1.1 million grant from NASA is helping several organizations fine-tune current red tide forecasts with the goal of offering public health managers, coastal residents and visitors a forecast that better reflects coastal conditions on more localized scales. Improved models and forecasts for red tide conditions will help people make healthy choices about where to spend recreation time, increasing protections for public health and coastal economies.
Key to improving the forecast is the development of a smartphone application by Robert Currier, Research Specialist and Product Developer for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS). The app will allow trained beach observers with special low-cost smart-phone microscopes to collect videos of water samples that can be uploaded to a cloud-based server for automated evaluation. This system will then provide a real-time response on the presence or absence of K. brevis, along with information about whether the quantities are enough to warrant a health concern.
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