Using AI technology, HABscope can instantly detect a species of phytoplankton that can harm Irish marine life, fishing and tourism.
Irish scientists use a specialized microscope that harnesses the power of AI through a connected iPod Touch to detect harmful algae.
Known as the HABscope, the microscope is tested by scientists at the Marine Institute and NUI Galway to detect harmful algal bloom (HAB) species in the Celtic Sea. It was developed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and funded by NASA.
The AI software uses the data from the microscope to instantly detect Karenia, a particularly harmful phytoplankton. Its dense toxic blooms cause red tints in the water and considerable ecological damage.
Combined with satellite imagery, the HABscope helps scientists get a bird’s eye view of the ocean and detect blooms early. Specially designed algorithms calculate the reflectance of light at the ocean surface to help them track the movement of flowers.
This is the first time that the HABscope has been tested outside of the United States.
Sheena Fennell, NUI Galway, using the HABscope on the RV Celtic Voyager. Image: Marine Institute
A woman in a tracksuit leans over a lab bench aboard a research vessel, looking at an AI-equipped microscope with a modified iPod Touch as a display screen.
While most phytoplankton blooms benefit the ecosystem, a small proportion that produces toxins, like Carenia, is detrimental to marine life, the fishing industry, and tourism.
“Using the HABscope alongside satellite technology can help provide early, large-scale warnings of the presence of harmful algal blooms,” said Catherine Jordan, who is conducting her doctoral research in this area at NUI Galway. .
“HABs can impact industries such as aquaculture, fisheries and tourism, so it is important to be able to detect, monitor, track and predict the development and movement of HABs in real time. “
The Marine Institute, where Jordan is a Cullen Fellow, monitors Irish coastal waters for the species Karenia as part of the National Phytoplankton Monitoring Program. Karenia cells are thought to overwinter in small numbers and form flowers from early to late summer.
The program analyzes water samples from the Irish coast to identify any harmful phytoplankton and monitor its impact on shellfish and fish, among other species.
The HABscope’s AI is designed to identify Karenia’s swimming pattern in a water sample, for example.
“In a recent survey aboard the RV Celtic Voyager, a high density of Karenia cells was detected offshore in an area in a thin subterranean layer, similar to an underwater cloud. The HABscope has been used successfully with samples of this layer and its performance is currently under evaluation, ”said the Marine Institute in a recent announcement.
Despite its detrimental effects on marine animals, the Carenia has no impact on human health and is a common species in Irish coastal waters at this time of year, the institute said.