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How to Detect Harmful Algal Blooms with Water Quality Sensors

by:BOQU     2023-06-04

How to Detect Harmful Algal Blooms with Water Quality Sensors

Algal blooms occur when there is an excessive growth of algae in a water body due to an increase in nutrients. While most algae are harmless, some species can produce toxins that can cause harm to aquatic life and humans who come into contact with affected water sources. As a result, early detection of harmful algal blooms (HABs) is crucial to prevent harmful effects on human health, aquatic life, and the environment.

Water quality sensors are instrumental in detecting HABs. These sensors can detect changes in water quality parameters such as temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity. The information collected by these sensors is then analyzed to determine the presence of algal blooms. In this article, we'll discuss how you can detect harmful algal blooms with water quality sensors.

Understanding Harmful Algal Blooms

HABs are often caused by the excessive growth of cyanobacteria, a type of algae that can produce toxins. Cyanobacteria are commonly found in freshwater, but they can also be present in marine environments as well. When these algae bloom, they can consume the dissolved oxygen in the water, leading to the death of aquatic life such as fish and invertebrates. In addition, exposure to the toxins produced by these algae can cause health problems in humans such as skin rashes, respiratory issues, and gastrointestinal problems.

To detect HABs, water quality sensors can be used to measure the concentration of chlorophyll-a, a pigment found in algae. When there is a sudden increase in the concentration of chlorophyll-a, it can indicate the presence of an algal bloom. Water quality sensors can also measure the pH and dissolved oxygen levels of the water, which can be affected by the growth of algae.

Using Water Quality Sensors to Monitor Algal Blooms

Water quality sensors can be used in various methods to monitor algal blooms in water. Here are some of the common techniques:

1. In-situ Monitoring

In-situ monitoring involves placing water quality sensors directly in the water body to collect data on water quality parameters. This technique can provide real-time data on the status of algal blooms, allowing for early detection and timely response.

2. Remote Sensing

Remote sensing involves using satellites or other aerial devices to capture images of the water body. These images can be analyzed to determine the concentration of chlorophyll-a and other water quality parameters. This technique can cover a large area quickly and can be useful for monitoring algal blooms in large water bodies.

3. Citizen Science Monitoring

Citizen science monitoring involves engaging members of the public in monitoring water quality parameters using water quality sensors. This technique can be useful for monitoring smaller water bodies as it involves the community and provides an opportunity for education and awareness.

4. Laboratory Analysis

Laboratory analysis involves collecting water samples and analyzing them for the presence of algae and toxins. This technique provides accurate results and can be used to identify the specific species of algae present.

Preventing Harmful Algal Blooms

Preventing HABs involves reducing the nutrient levels in water bodies, which can stimulate the growth of algae. Here are some ways to prevent the growth of HABs:

1. Reduce Nutrient Pollution

Nutrient pollution from agricultural activities, wastewater treatment plants, and other sources can contribute to the growth of HABs. Preventing nutrient pollution is essential to reduce the likelihood of algal blooms.

2. Implement Best Practices

Best management practices in agriculture and other activities can reduce nutrient runoff and minimize the likelihood of nutrient pollution.

3. Reduce Runoff

Reducing runoff by increasing vegetation cover and reducing impervious surfaces can reduce the likelihood of nutrient pollution.

4. Monitor Water Quality

Regular monitoring of water quality parameters can identify changes in water quality and potential algal blooms. Early detection can allow for timely response and prevention of algal blooms.


Harmful algal blooms can have significant impacts on human health, aquatic life, and the environment. Detecting algal blooms early is key to preventing harm. Water quality sensors provide a useful tool in monitoring water quality and detecting algal blooms. Understanding how to use these sensors to detect algal blooms can help prevent potential harm.

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