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A collaboration of the University of Minnesota's Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory and Water Resources Center

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Researchers from the University of Minnesota's Water Resource Center, and the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory have been working together since 1996, researching and developing satellite-based approaches to monitor water resources. They have been joined by resource managers from several local and state agencies. Together they are committed to developing satellite technology as a cost effective way to acquire information on lakes, streams and wetlands.

The first research utilizing satellite remote sensing for monitoring lake water quality came in the late 1970’s at the University of Minnesota by Dr. Tom Lillesand. Although the early Landsat satellite data were not entirely sufficient for the operational mapping of lake clarity, this work laid the foundation for our recent research with second generation Landsat sensors.

In 1996, researchers in the Remote Sensing Laboratory and Dr. Marvin Bauer returned to pursue the application of satellite imagery to water resource monitoring. With help from Dr. Patrick Brezonik and the Water Resources Center, it was determined that the satellite data and the improvements in the STORET water quality database made the method not only viable, but a cost effective way to monitor lake-rich areas like those in the Upper Great Lakes region.

Initial external research interest came from the Metropolitan Council in 1997 and centered on the Twin Cities Metro Area. Analysis of twelve dates of imager from 1972 to 1998 established that given clear satellite data and corresponding lake clarity field data, the Landsat data could be used to accurately classify lake clarity data over time for the more than 500 lakes in the metro area.

As part of the NASA Upper Great Lakes RESAC (Regional Earth Science Applications Center) project, emphasis was placed on extending the methodology to the state and regional levels. University of Minnesota researchers joined forces with Dr. Lillesand (now at University of Wisconsin- Madison) and researchers at Michigan State University and were able to successfully create statewide censuses of lake clarity information for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources joined the effort in 2000 providing funds for determining whether aquatic vegetation could also be mapped using the recently available high resolution commercial satellite data. Several study sites were selected and mapped including Lake Minnetonka in Hennepin County and Swan Lake in Nicollet County, Minnesota.

Since 2003, the research has continued with a project funded by the Legislative Commission for Minnesota Resources. Now emphasis is being placed on creating historical statewide censuses of lake water clarity and analyzing the trends and drivers of lake water clarity. Refinements are being made to the methodology in order to transfer the technique to the state agencies who steward water quality, namely the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

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