Mar Menor’s new algorithm to watch health from space

Drone view of La Manga and Mar Menor

Drone view of La Manga and Mar Menor. Image: Shutterstock/Alex Tihonovs

MURCIA’S Mar Menor, which in recent years has been plagued with environmental problems, will receive an algorithm from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography to improve evaluation of the lagoon’s chlorophyll levels. 

New way of tracking nutrient levels

The algorithm will be part of a new nutrient-monitoring system currently being developed. Amid mass fish deaths and elevated levels of nitrates linked to the area’s intensive agriculture, researchers at the San Pedro del Pinatar Oceanographic Centre have determined that conventional algorithms used to evaluate nutrients in marine waters are not effective in Mar Menor, reports La Verdad.

This system, which tracks the nutrient levels of the world’s seas and oceans by utilising satellite data, is ineffective in Mar Menor due to its depth. The lagoon near Cartagena is only seven metres deep at its maximum depth, causing the satellite images to be oversaturated and unreadable. Mar Menor’s microbial composition is also unique, which makes it difficult for scientists to evaluate its ecological state using the current monitoring system.

The development of the new algorithm is still in its preliminary phase. Once finished, it will take into account the “spatial heterogeneity” of the lagoon’s phytoplankton growth, which will allow researchers to collect clearer and more accurate satellite data. Eventually, the goal is to monitor Mar Menor in near-real-time from space using an array of satellites, allowing scientists to accurately track the ecological health of the lagoon over the coming decades. 

The saltwater lagoon, which is the largest in Spain, has suffered a handful of ecological disasters in recent years, including the death of thousands of fish that washed up on its shores in August 2021. Scientists attributed the event to pollution and runoff from local farming.

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Cole Sinanian