Can Forel–Ule index act as a proxy of water quality in temperate waters? Application of plume mapping in Liverpool Bay, UK

Lenka Fronkova, Naomi Greenwood, Roi Martinez, Jennifer A. Graham, Richard Harrod, Carolyn A. Graves, Michelle J. Devlin, Caroline Petus

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The use of ocean colour classification algorithms, linked to water quality gradients, can be a useful tool for mapping river plumes in both tropical and temperate systems. This approach has been applied in operational water quality programs in the Great Barrier Reef to map river plumes and assess trends in marine water composition and ecosystem health during flood periods. In this study, we used the Forel–Ule colour classification algorithm for Sentinel-3 OLCI imagery in an automated process to map monthly, annual and long-term plume movement in the temperate coastal system of Liverpool Bay (UK). We compared monthly river plume extent to the river flow and in situ water quality data between 2017–2020. The results showed a strong positive correlation (Spearman’s rho = 0.68) between the river plume extent and the river flow and a strong link between the FUI defined waterbodies and nutrients, SPM, turbidity and salinity, hence the potential of the Forel– Ule index to act as a proxy for water quality in the temperate Liverpool Bay water. The paper discusses how the Forel–Ule index could be used in operational water quality programs to better understand river plumes and the land-based inputs to the coastal zones in UK waters, drawing parallels with methods that have been developed in the GBR and Citclops project. Overall, this paper provides the first insight into the systematic long-term river plume mapping in UK coastal waters using a fast, cost-effective, and reproducible workflow. The study created a novel water assessment typology based on the common physical, chemical and biological ocean colour properties captured in the Forel–Ule index, which could replace the more traditional eutrophication assessment regions centred around strict geographic and political boundaries. Additionally, the Forel–Ule assessment typology is particularly important since it identifies areas of the greatest impact from the land-based loads into the marine environment, and thus potential risks to vulnerable ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2375
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2022

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