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Robot, researchers on red-tide patrol

Dr. L. Kellie Dixon points out the red-tide detector — called an optical phytoplankton discriminator or BreveBuster — carried by Waldo, an underwater robot operated by Mote Marine Laboratory. On Aug. 1, Mote sent Waldo to study an offshore bloom of red tide in collaboration with the University of South Florida’s robot, Bass. Islander Photos: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

Mote researchers deploy equipment into the Gulf of Mexico, part of an effort to monitor and study a red tide bloom north of Pinellas County off Florida’s west coast.

Waldo and Bass went diving.

The underwater robots — Mote Marine Laboratory employs Waldo and Bass works for the University of South Florida — were deployed earlier this month to monitor a bloom of red tide off the west coast of Florida.

The results from the robots’ research will help scientists shape short-term forecasts for blooms, such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this summer. As of Aug. 6, the bloom reached from Dixie County to southern Pasco County, just north of Pinellas, measuring about 80 miles long and 50 miles wide.

Researchers in early August learned:

• From Waldo, that at 40 miles from the Pasco/Hernando border, red tide was detected at the surface and to depths of about 82 feet in areas where it was indicated by satellites.

• From Bass, that at the outer edge of the bloom, elevated chlorophyll associated with the red tide was present in waters as deep as 131 feet.

• Information from both robots confirmed that bloom water is “stratified” — layered — with denser, cooler water below and lighter, warmer water on top.

Both robots were expected to complete their work this month.

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