Novel methods for monitoring low chlorophyll-a concentrations in the large, oligotrophic Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa

Rodgers Makwinja, Yoshihiko Inagaki, Solomon G. Tesfamichael, Christopher J. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of remote sensing for monitoring chlorophyll-a (chla) and modelling eutrophication has advanced over the last decades. Although the application of the technology has proven successful in ocean ecosystems, there is a need to monitor chla concentrations in large, nutrient-poor inland water bodies. The main objective of this study was to explore the utility of publicly available remotely sensed Sentinel-2 (S2) imagery to quantify chla concentrations in the nutrient-deficient Lake Malawi/Niassa/Nyasa (LMNN). A secondary objective was to compare the S2 derived chla with the Global Change Observation Mission–Climate (GCOM-C) chla product that provides uninterrupted data throughout the year. In situ chla data (n = 76) from upper, middle and lower sections of LMNN served as a reference to produce remote sensing-based quantification. The line-height approach method built on color index, was applied for chla concentrations below 0.25 mg/m3. Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer 3-band Ocean Color (MODIS-OC3) – was adopted when chla concentration exceeded 0.35 mg/m3. The MODIS-OC3 algorithm had generic model coefficients that were calibrated for each in situ sample by using GCOM-C Level 3 chla product. A weighted sum of the two algorithms was applied for chla concentrations that fell between 0.25 and 0.35 mg/m3. The above methods were then applied to the S2 data to estimate chla at each pixel. S2 showed a promising accuracy in distinguishing chla levels (MSE = 0.18) although the chla range in the lake was relatively narrow, particularly using the locally calibrated coefficients of the OC3 algorithm. Chla distribution maps produced from the S2 data revealed limited spatial variation across the LMNN with higher concentrations identified in the coastal areas. S2-derived chla and GCOM-C chla comparison showed fairly good similarity between the two datasets (MSE = 0.205). Accepting this similarity, monthly chla dynamics of the lake was profiled using the temporally reliable GCOM-C data that showed oligotrophic conditions (1.7 mg/m3 to 3.2 mg/m3) in most parts of the lake throughout the year. The study's findings advance the potential for both remote sensing approaches to provide vital information at the required spatial and temporal resolution for evidence-based policymaking and proactive environmental management in an otherwise very data deficient region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121462
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024


  • GCOM-C chla products
  • Ocean color algorithm
  • Remote sensing
  • Sentinel-2 multispectral imager
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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