HOW clean are Scotland’s lochs? According to researchers, the answer is written in the stars.

Satellites will be used to monitor water quality in a pioneering project led by Stirling University.

Experts will team up with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in a feasibility study set to assess how new technology can help the government body in assessing the state of the country’s 31,000-plus freshwater and sea lochs.

The method uses the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite to identify algal blooms and other potential contaminants in bodies of water.

Stirling currently leads the £2.9 million GloboLakes project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which has established the world’s first satellite-based global lake surveillance system.

Dr Claire Neil will now lead efforts to use reflectance measurements beamed down from space to check lochs for concentrations of chlorophyll-a, used by algae and green plants for photosynthesis.

The data will then help to assess risk to water quality status and allow SEPA to better target and enhance their sampling work.

The £70,000 study begins this month and will run for at least one year, dependant on funding.

Neil said it could be better than physical checks, stating: “This method of monitoring provides a more detailed and representative view of the whole lake, when compared to current sampling techniques that typically assess water quality in samples taken close to the lake edge.”

SEPA executive director Dr David Pirie commented: “Utilising data gathered from satellites offers many opportunities in environmental protection and assessment and I am very excited about SEPA’s involvement in this joint venture.”