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Remote sensing of bacterial populations in small and large bodies of water can significantly enhance our ability to understand fresh water ecosystems and monitor water quality. Although the identification of individual species is still unfeasible, the detection of certain bacterial groups and the likelihood of occurrence would be very valuable. Spectral analysis of satellite imagery is currently used to determine water parameters like temperature, turbidity, phytoplankton and dissolved organic matter. In order to establish a correlation between some of these parameters and the presence of microorganisms, we collect water samples from several locations in the Lake Ontario Rochester Embayment and Irondequoit Bay that are imaged by the new Landsat 8 OLI and TIRS sensors.


Students leave the lab during the summer to collect surface samples in synchrony with the satellite flybys. They collect samples by paddling to the site of by flying a drone outfitted with test tubes. We have collected and then isolated over a 1000 live bacterial specimens, creating a library for collaborators to perform antibiotic-resistance studies and new species identification purposes.


Using bacterial 16S rRNA, we map the diversity and distribution of microorganisms isolated from the samples and then link this information to the bio-optical properties of the water. Our results represent an early attempt to develop a method for the remote detection of bacteria. A comprehensive understanding of the factors affecting the conditions favoring the establishment of the various colonies will require a library of seasonal ground truth sampling and remote sensing observations to assess potential probability and geographic distributions of the bacterial populations.

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