Campbell, a professor in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University, has received a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to photograph the algae using a computer-controlled video camera linked to a flow cytometer and microscope system. With the expertise of co-principal investigator Norman Guinasso of Texas A&M's Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG), the innovative FlowCAM, will provide continuous monitoring, mounted on a new buoy as part of the Texas Automated Buoy System (TABS).
Harmful algal blooms, known locally as red tides, occur unpredictably in the Gulf of Mexico and result in fish kills and, sometimes, human illnesses. The goal of NOAA's Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) program is to develop new technologies for detecting harmful algae.
"Having the FlowCAM moored to a buoy off the coast will allow us to secure black and white visual images of the water column and examine them for the presence of particular organisms," Campbell said. "The advantage of this system is that the instrument automatically draws in a sample through its imaging microscope and stores the image on the computer.
"Because the camera system is computerized, we'll be able to teach it to use pattern-recognition software to pick out images of particular species during continuous operation," she explained. "This technology will make our job easier, since it's impossible for a human researcher to count continuously."
The images will be sent back to lab via cell phone.