Introducing Georgie McBayFace
By: Helen Bryce, Former Chair of the Education Committee
Have you met our Georgie McBayFace, the new Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) - first of its kind in Canada for freshwater use - now jointly owned by GBF, Western University, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University?
Read below to find out all the things that Georgie does on behalf of Georgian Bay!
The Story of Georgie
Georgie is a small, robotic research submarine that scientists can program and send out on data-collecting missions into any area of the Bay they want to learn more about, such as wetlands, to measure their resilience to climate change.
Georgie travels independently for up to 10 hours, taking important measurements of the water, like temperature, pH levels, total algae, the underwater topography (bathymetry), and much, much more. Georgie has an amazing array of sensors that can collect data on a variety of chemical measurements not previously known about in the Great Lakes. We can send Georgie into very specific areas of the Bay currently lacking in data and she will be able to monitor water quality trends from year to year.
Georgie is a very sophisticated piece of equipment that scientists get very excited about. For the lay person, however, understanding what Georgie can actually do involves scientific terminology that can set heads spinning! Here is a simplified list of the sensors aboard Georgie and the important jobs they will be doing to collect data on Georgian Bay and support GBF’s work to protect it forever.
What do the Sensors Measure?
Dissolved oxygen (DO) is one of the most important indicators of water quality. It occurs when the wind blows, dissolving it on the water surface and as a byproduct of photosynthesis in aquatic plants. Healthy levels of DO must be present in order to ensure the survival of fish and other aquatic organisms.
Things that can affect the amount of DO in water are temperature (colder water holds more), salinity (more salt means less oxygen) and bacteria (which consumes oxygen while eating decayed algae).
Dissolved organic carbon - carbon is one of the basic building blocks of life and organic carbon is found in all living things. DOC constantly cycles through healthy water systems.
Generally, when dead plants and animals break down through the decomposition process, the DOC becomes a food source for microorganisms. It ultimately gets incorporated into higher levels of the ecosystem through the classic food chain formed by phytoplankton (eaten by zooplankton) and zooplankton (eaten by larger animals). Plankton are at the base of a critically important aquatic food web.
Most DOC originates naturally but higher concentrations of it can indicate too much human intervention such as soil run-off from farms.
Coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM) is actually DOC (above) that you can see with the naked eye. It has colour ranging from brown to yellow-brown to yellow. It is the result of concentrated organic matter molecules (hundreds to thousands of them) which are drained away from decaying matter and are suspended on the water’s surface.
Too much CDOM can negatively impact photosynthesis because it lessens the intensity of light as it penetrates the water. This, in turn, can impede the growth of phytoplankton which is the basis of the aquatic food chain and a major source of oxygen.
CDOM can also absorb harmful UV radiation from the sun and that protects organisms from DNA damage. UV absorption causes the CDOM to “bleach”, which releases nutrients used by phytoplankton for growth.
Variations in the levels of CDOM in fresh water can be caused by changes in the amount of precipitation and/or human activity, such as logging, agriculture, etc.
Navigation on the surface is done through GPS and below the surface by the Doppler Velocity Log.
The Doppler Velocity Log sends out a 4-beam “ping”. The response it receives from the bottom of a lake or a particular layer of water comes back in three directions, two horizontal and one vertical. This data allows the Doppler to calculate the position of the AUV while underwater and to measure currents.
EXO pH is a number between 0 and 14 that determines how acidic or basic a body of water is. Lower numbers indicate more acid and higher numbers more basic. A pH measured at seven is considered neutral.
If the pH of the water is too high or too low, the aquatic organisms in that water will die. A pH range of 6.5-9.0 is preferred by most aquatic creatures.
Turbidity is the amount of suspended solids in water and is an important indicator of water quality. High levels of turbidity can block light and interfere with photosynthesis. That interference can damage aquatic vegetation and reduce the dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water. When high levels of turbidity are present, the solids absorb more light which can increase water temperature - and further lessen DO - stressing organisms even more and potentially leading to fish kills. Turbidity is often related to climate changes and is an indicator of the environmental health of water bodies.
Chlorophyll algae - Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants and is a necessary ingredient for successful photosynthesis. Measuring chlorophyll in water enables you to gain an understanding of the natural levels of chlorophyll containing organisms present in that water. With that knowledge, scientists can recognize if there is a change, which could be an indication that a pollutant or nutrient has entered the water.
Blue-green algae (BGA or cyanobacteria) ranges in colour from blue and green to red and black. Monitoring BGA levels is important because in abundance, BGA can reduce the nitrogen, carbon and DO in the water. Water quality, ecosystem health, drinking water and public health can be threatened by the toxic biomass produced in these algal (or algae) blooms.
StarFish452F Side Scan Sonar creates an image of the floor of a water body. It does this by measuring how loud the return echo is and then creates a picture. Rocks and hard areas at the bottom reflect more sound with a louder, stronger echo than softer areas like sand. Hard surfaces appear bright and soft, and sound absorbing surfaces appear darker (depending on the colour palette we choose).
There you have it. Now when you hear that Georgie McBayFace is on a mission, you can imagine what Georgie’s collecting and how important that information is to the health of the Bay!