Image Analysis Addresses Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful algal blooms are the rapid and uncontrolled growth of algae in either freshwater or marine environments and can cause significant harm to human health, animals, the environment and economies. A team of researchers from the Bristol Vision Institute (BVI) at the University of Bristol has been awarded a major grant by the British Council to produce monitoring and early warning systems for harmful algal blooms (HABs), also known as red tides.

algal blooms
A red tide

HAB contaminated seafood produce toxic reactions and can be fatal.  Direct contact with HABs can bring about respiratory problems and can cause mass extermination of fish stock and marine wildlife together with the related knock-on effects within the marine and coastal ecosystem.  Dramatic and adverse effects on coastal tourism and beach-based activities result from HAB events.  There is also a significant impact on local fishing industries and desalination plants may need to halt operations.

Although some evidence links algal blooms to high water temperature, sun exposure or to high concentrations of natural and human generated nutrients, their causes and dynamics or are still not fully understood.

A research team from the University of Bristol, including Professor David Bull and Dr Paul Hill, will lead this project in collaboration with researchers at Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates.

The team’s aim is to analyse satellite imagery along with other sensory data using integrated machine learning and image processing methods to characterise, predict and introduce preventive actions which could limit or completely eliminate the environmental damage.

Professor David Bull, Director of BVI, said: “This grant will enable us to apply our world-leading expertise in image analysis to solving a major environmental problem. This two-year project, funded by the British Council under its Institutional Links Programme, will enable us to further build on our existing relationship with KUSTAR and the UAE region.”