Superhero vision measures water quality of lakes from space

An international team of researchers led by Professor Heiko Balzter from the Department of Geography has demonstrated a way to assess the quality of water on Earth from space by using satellite technology that can visualise pollution levels otherwise invisible to the human eye through ‘Superhero vision’.

The research team from the University of Leicester, the Hungarian Academy of Science and industrial partners has used the MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument hosted on the satellite ENVISAT to measure pollution levels in lakes on Earth through ‘Superhero vision’, allowing it to see wavelengths invisible to the human eye, which only sees red, green and blue light.

While these methods have previously been used for seas and oceans, they are not readily available for lakes, especially shallow lakes with complex optical environments defined by a mix of different natural substances in the water - such as Lake Balaton in Hungary.

During the study, which has been published in the February edition of the top-rated remote sensing journal Remote Sensing of Environment, Leicester PhD student Stephanie Palmer, who worked in Hungary at the Balaton Limnological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for three years, analysed ten years of data from the European ENVISAT satellite in the search for specific chronological sequences describing algal blooms.

Lake Balaton in Hungary is a popular tourist area especially vulnerable to environmental and meteorological changes that could result in the build-up of algae.