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Earth Matters


1) In most of the world, water hyacinth (Eichhonria crassipes) — a fast-growing, aquatic plant — is loathed for its ability to reproduce so quickly that it can blanket large portions of lakes and ponds with a thick mat of vegetation.

2) In a lake with strongly entrenched water hyacinth, plants interlock into such dense masses that they are sturdy enough to hold people walking on them. On Inle Lake in Burma, people turn mats of water hyacinth into floating islands and grow vegetables and flowers on them.

3) Lakes that are overrun by water hyacinths undergo dramatic transformations. Submerged native plants became shaded and often die. The resulting decay processes depletes dissolved oxygen in the water and leads to fish kills. Boat travel can become impossible with severe infestations.

4) Water hyacinth is native to South America, the only continent where natural predators such as weevils and moths keep it at bay.

5) Cutting a water hyacinth plant into pieces will not kill it. The plants can reproduce using a process called fragmentation. Each plant also produces thousands of seeds each year.

6) The invasive plant is currently considered an invasive weed in more than 50 countries (including Central and North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa). Climate change may allow them to spread even farther.

7) Scientists use satellites to monitor lakes infested with water hyacinth. A NASA DEVELOP group recently devised an automated technique for monitoring water hyacinth in Lake Victoria’s Winam Gulf, an area that has struggled with water hyacinth infestation for decades. The researchers used satellite data collected by the OLI, MODIS, and MSI sensors. Winam Gulf communities have struggled with water hyacinth infestation for more than a decade. Learn more about the project in the video below.

Editor’s Note: DEVELOP, part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, addresses environmental and public policy issues through interdisciplinary research projects. To highlight the program’s work, the Earth Matters blog occasionally highlights some of the most interesting topics that DEVELOP teams are pursuing.