May 20, 2013

'Laboratory in a can' monitors Maine red tide

The apparatus is designed to help scientists better predict when and where outbreaks might occur.

By CLARKE CANFIELD The Associated Press

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A robotic device is deployed April 28 in the ocean off southern Maine to collect and transmit data about the toxin-producing algae blooms known as red tide.

The Associated Press

"The offshore waters are a blind spot unless you have something out there telling you what's happening," said Couture, who formerly headed Maine's red-tide monitoring programming.

The new monitoring device is tethered to a buoy on the water surface and to an anchor on the ocean floor. The first one was developed by Chris Scholin, who was once a student of Anderson's while earning a doctorate and is now president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research institute in California.

Scholin's first "laboratory in a can," as he called it, was deployed off Maine in 2000. The idea was to find a way to retrieve and test data from the ocean in a timely manner without actually going to sea, he said. Marine research is time-consuming and costly when scientists have to rent vessels with crew, spend days at a time at sea and collect samples that are later tested in on-shore laboratories. By the time the lab results are known, the water conditions may have changed.

Scholin's first device was crude compared to the Anderson's latest version, but it worked. To retrieve the data, he carried an antenna and a large battery in a backpack, and pointed the antenna toward the ocean.

"People thought we were crazy, that it couldn't be done," he said.

Besides red tide, the processor can be used to test for water quality and monitor bacteria, viruses and other organisms in oceans, lakes, rivers, reservoirs and at fish farms. In time, it could be used for commercial applications, such as testing food in food-processing plants.

"They are on the cutting edge of technology, pushing the edge," Scholin said.


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