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Detecting microbiological events

27 November 2015
Carlos Campos, member of the ShellEye project team and Cefas scientist, explains how ShellEye is investigating how satellite may be used to help detect microbiological events in coastal waters.

Our planet is observed every minute by dozens of satellites, whose images and measurements can provide water quality scientists with useful tools for monitoring and predicting microbiological pollution in the marine environment. One of the elements of ShellEye is to explore and expand the use of satellites to highlight microbiological pollution towards the development of an early warning system for Escherichia coli and human norovirus. This bacteria and virus are a focus of ShellEye because they may cause contamination of shellfish.

Although satellite sensors cannot detect the presence of E. coli or norovirus in the waters, they may provide useful information on the environmental conditions that drive the abundance and distribution of these organisms in the marine environment. For example, heavy rainfall can result in increased runoff and available nutrients in coastal waters, and can modulate occurrences of E. coli and norovirus in coastal shellfish growing waters.

In the initial stages of the project, ShellEye researchers are reviewing historical data on rainfall, water temperature, salinity and tidal currents. By combining these data and measurements with information on water quality and ecosystem health, ShellEye scientists aim to improve our knowledge of E.coli and norovirus drivers and distribution. The ability to predict certain pollutants in the marine environment will help feed into pre-emptive risk management measures for shellfish farmers to use.

Carlos Campos comments: "This initial review of historical data is very important because it will help identify new hypotheses to be tested in selected commercial shellfisheries".