The Applicability of Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing in Identifying Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers sources using NOAA National Status & Trends Mussel Watch Program Data

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A plentiful source of revenue within the aquaculture industry of Africa, mussels and oysters are ideal platforms as it concerns water quality testing.  Along the coast of South Africa the European blue mussel (mytilus galloprovinciallis) is highly prevalent.  This bivalve, which is susceptible contaminants, is ideal to serve as a testing platform to begin a Mussel Watch program within the continent of Africa.

The Mussel Watch Program is one of the longest running contaminant monitoring programs in the coastal ocean with more than 20 years of data. Mussel Watch uses bivalves (Mussels, Oysters, and Zebra Mussels) as a means to assess water quality. The purpose of the program is geared towards assessing contaminants nationally.  Utilizing formats such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing data assessment, this project identifies possible releasers of effluent waste into the major coastal watershed regions pertaining to ongoing research conducted within monitored Mussel Watch sites.  This project further serves as a platform for testing the mussel, a major source of income for some Coastal African nations

The categorization of possible contaminating locations is made available through the development of a large dataset. This dataset utilizes those derived from agencies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and other federal government databases such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  Utilizing platforms such as ESRI® ArcMap™ software, spatially referenced locations, via point data, vector data, line data, and polygons depicting points and sites of interest were created using latitude and longitude information. Points and areas of interest (AOI) were verified using remote sensing imagery. As such, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) within observable mussel watch sites were assessed by NOAA’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA). Using this data, researchers are able to identify possible sources of contributors to the present contaminant. 

In the attempt to identify possible contributors of the PBDEs contaminant with NOAA’s National Status & Trends Mussel Watch Program a suite of software was utilized in assessing and compiling the acquired data. ArcGIS 9.3 was used as the primary software in manipulating the dataset used in this project. Remote Sensing imagery acquired from an ESRI™ database served as the base map within the project and was used to verify Points of Interest (POI).

Data collected from the USGS, was created and edited to show coastal watersheds reflective of Mussel Watch Program and observed coastal regions.  A national dataset was collected from the USEPA.  Wastewater treatment facilities were closely examined as contaminant release sites due to their potential to release untreated wastewater. Other contributors of contaminated water sources that were identified within this study included brownfields, superfund sites, power plants, hazardous waste sites, unidentified that comprised information regarding active National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits permitted facilities, and combined sewer overflows.  The data gathered was analyzed and checked for irregularities, corrected, and projected using World Geodetic System (WGS 1984).

This post was written by Patrina L. Bly (Elizabeth City State University). Contact her at for more information.