Meet Our New Fish Friend!
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Reactive Fish Sculpture translates water sensor measurements from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Information System (NWIS) to colors and motion for the general public. The fish's colors and motion will reflect measurements from two different sensor sites, one on Lake Pontchartrain and the other on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.
The water sensor levels are based on data collected at the USGS Lake Pontchartrain water sensor is located at the New Canal Lighthouse, made possible through EPA's Village Blue project. Project partners include Pontchartrain Conservancy, USGS, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others.
Our fish friend needs a name, and we'll need your help to pick the best one!
Stay tuned to participate in its name selection!
Real-time water quality monitoring helps communities better understand Lake Pontchartrain
water quality and its connection to the Mississippi River.
Salinity, the measurement of salt dissolved in water, will be reflected in the color of the fish's ribcage. Lake Pontchartrain water is brackish, meaning it is neither completely fresh nor as salty as seawater. The lake has a low salinity level measuring around 1.6 parts per thousand (PPT), so when the fish is displaying measurements from the lake, its ribcage will typically be purple. Mississippi River water has a low salt concentration and has very low salinity, so when the fish is displaying measurements from the river, its ribcage will typically be gold.
Algae contains chlorophyll. Chlorophyll levels change the color displayed at the base of the fish. Algae are the foundation of the ecosystem and are primary producers, meaning they use nutrients in the water and energy from the sun to build cell material.
Lake Pontchartrain typically has low concentrations of algae but increases in nutrient concentrations may lead to an algal bloom. Mississippi River water has a high nutrient content, but sensor data is not available for algae in the river, so the fish’s base will always appear blue when displaying data from the Mississippi River.
Oxygen molecules that are not bonded to any other element are considered free, or non-compound, elements. When free oxygen is present in water, we call it dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen is available for fish and aquatic plants to breathe in, much like humans take in oxygen from the air.
The fish's tail will move with a lower range of motion and a longer pause for low levels of dissolved oxygen. Medium levels of dissolved oxygen cause an increased range of motion of the tail with a shorter pause, and high levels of dissolved oxygen result in an increased range of motion of the tail with a similar pause. The fish's eyes also blink one, two, or three times in demo mode to show the tail motion level.
Lake Pontchartrain typically has high levels of oxygen at the surface due to wave action, but these dissolved oxygen levels may decrease with depth below the surface, in a process known as an oxycline. The Mississippi River is generally well oxygenated throughout its depth, although it may have an oxycline at times in areas that are very deep.
Turbidity is the amount of cloudiness in the water. The fish will rise up or lower down based on turbidity measurements. Turbidity can vary from a river full of mud and silt where it would be impossible to see through the water (high turbidity), to a spring which appears to be completely clear (low turbidity).
Lake Pontchartrain typically has low turbidity, but wave action increases the amount of sand and lake-bottom material, which can dramatically increase turbidity levels in the lake. Mississippi River water has high turbidity levels due to sand, silt and clay particles carried by the current.
Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain
Water Quality Data Directly from the New Canal Lighthouse
EPA and USGS initiated the Village Blue research project in 2017 to provide real-time water quality monitoring data to local and regional communities and increase public awareness about water quality. A new Village Blue monitoring site has been established in New Orleans, Louisiana on Lake Pontchartrain, a 630-square-mile estuary used for recreational and commercial uses such as swimming, boating, kayaking, camping and fishing.
Village Blue Lake Pontchartrain expands on a former Village Blue project in Baltimore, Maryland. Village Blue Baltimore was launched in 2017 to measure water quality in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Village Blue also builds on EPA’s Village Green project, which provided air quality information to eight communities across the U.S.
EPA and USGS installed a new water quality sensor site near the New Canal Lighthouse on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain in early 2021. The sensors measure algae, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, specific conductance, salinity, turbidity and nitrate. These measurements are updated every hour. Water sensor data from this new site and an existing USGS site on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge are displayed in near real-time on the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) website. The reactive fish sculpture references these data every hour and reflects the parameters through his colors and motion.
Curious What the Parameters Look Like Over Time at Lake Pontchartrain?
All data collected from the water quality sensor at the New Canal Lighthouse can be found on USGS' National Water Information System: Web Interface. Each parameter that the fish translates to colors and motions can be viewed as a graph over time at the link below. Date ranges can be set at the top. The site provides a look back until December 2020, when the sensor was implemented.
Remember, we need help naming this amazing fish. Stay tuned to help us pick the best name for him, coming soon to this site!
EPA's Reactive Fish Sculpture is a demonstration project funded by EPA's Office of Research and Development, EPA Region 6, EPA Region 4's Gulf of Mexico Division, and the Environmental Modeling and Visualization Center.
Find the fish at The New Canal Lighthouse!
Open 10:00am - 4:00pm, Tuesday - Saturday