NCCOS scientists and their partners at OAR’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), recently achieved the first real-time HAB toxicity assessment by an uncrewed, subsurface vehicle carrying the 3rd Generation Environmental Sample Processor (3G-ESP).
Toxin sensors fabricated by NCCOS researchers were a key component of these real-time microcystin (MC) observations made by the 3G ESP onboard MBARI’s Long-Range Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (LRAUV) during a toxic cyanobacterial bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie.
Three NCCOS-developed, MC-specific surface plasmon resonance (SPR) sensor chips, coupled with MBARI’s newly redesigned embedded SPR module and customized sample acquisition/ preparation cartridges integrated with 3G-ESP, produced these first ‘on-the-fly’ quantitative MC measurements onboard the LRAUV during a two-week deployment in Lake Erie from 4-17 August, 2021.
A total of 17 discrete MC measurements confirmed the relatively low toxicity nature of the bloom over this time period. Highly coordinated, vessel-assisted water quality sampling (including MC) and airborne hyperspectral imagery contributed by GLERL and CIGLR, as well as satellite imagery from the NOAA Lake Erie HAB Bulletin, provided critical paired validation data and information on bloom location, intensity, and trajectory, respectively. A second MBARI sentinel LRAUV deployed during the first week of the mission also served to map the bloom distribution and guide sampling by the 3G ESP/LRAUV, which was especially useful given that cloud cover initially limited the availability of satellite images of the bloom.
In another first, NOAA personnel, trained previously by MBARI colleagues, successfully piloted the vehicle and adaptively executed bloom patch tracking and sampling missions on-the-fly during field operations. This key step towards transferring MBARI’s LRAUV technology will significantly enhance NOAA’s uncrewed systems (UxS) capabilities. In addition, archived samples collected and preserved autonomously by the 3G ESP/LRAUV will be used by GLERL, AOML, and CIGLR scientists for post-deployment ‘omics-based analyses of the bloom population. This information, along with the contextual data obtained from analysis of hand-collected samples, will aid in interpreting toxin data generated during the deployment and improve our understanding of factors contributing to bloom toxicity in Lake Erie.
This work was supported by an internal OAR award to GLERL under the Omics Initiative and internal NOS/NCCOS operational funds.