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Sensing Trouble

The storm clouds looming behind the first environmental sample processor (ESP) as it arrived at the WHOI dock in June of 2011 spelled trouble. At sea, the instrument samples seawater, filters out cells, and breaks them apart to release DNA and other telltale chemicals to quickly identify and count cells of the toxic algae Alexandrium fundyense in the ocean. It then transmits information directly to scientists on shore. During its first deployment in 2011, a lightning strike knocked out the ESP's communications with shore, prematurely ending the test. Scientists deployed the device in May 2012 for a second, longer test and will ultimately use the sensor to provide an automated, early warning of harmful algae blooms, sometimes known in New England as "red tides." (Photo by Jayne Doucette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)


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