NASA takes a look at Lake Tahoe’s algae

Adam Jensen

A NASA mission expected to provide important information about the world’s changing ecosystems has included Lake Tahoe as part of its test runs.

Lake Tahoe’s algae blooms and forest fire hazard are among the subjects that could be better understood through NASA’s Hyperspectral Infrared Imager mission, said Robert Green, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The mission, known as HyspIRI, will use imaging tools to gather information to monitor the ecosystems worldwide and provide critical information on events like volcanoes, wildfire and droughts, according to the mission’s website.

“HyspIRI will be able to identify the type of vegetation that is present and whether the vegetation is healthy,” according to the website. “The mission will provide a benchmark on the state of the worlds ecosystems against which future changes can be assessed.”

Researchers have been putting the imaging technology through its paces using an ER-2, a civilian version of the U2 spy plane. The technology will eventually be put into low-earth orbit for long-term use, but the satellite iteration of the effort isn’t expected to take place until after 2020, Green said.

Lake Tahoe is among six areas around California included in the mission’s test flights.

The data gathered about Lake Tahoe so far has yet to be analyzed, Green said. He said it could eventually be used to determine the patterns and extent of algae blooms throughout the year, as well as the condition of the area’s forest in terms of wildfire likelihood. Both the wildfire risk presented by the Lake Tahoe Basin’s forests and the degraded quality of the lake’s near shore have been a growing concerns in recent years.

Additional high-altitude flights of the area are scheduled for September and October, with more planned in 2014.

More information on the mission is available at

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