Harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecasts are in various stages of development for several U.S. coastal areas. Developing and transitioning mature HAB forecasts from research status to routine and reliable operational products involves partnerships between a variety of offices within NOAA and with external partners.
The National Ocean Service's (NOS) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), which conducted research leading to the successful operational forecast system in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, is now developing and funding research focused on understanding the biological, environmental, and oceanographic conditions that cause HABs in other coastal U.S. regions. NCCOS and the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) are presently collaborating with external partners to develop a plan for the operational transition of predictive tools and models that have been developed through management partnerships and research projects, including some of those summarized below.
The current research and development projects for HAB forecasting can be divided into two stages: research and demonstration. During the research phase, the basic scientific principles of the HAB species are studied and applied. When the research is considered mature enough, forecast models and applications are proposed. Once these forecast models and applications have been validated in a theoretical environment, they are tested with real data. From this research, a demonstration forecast system is developed, which serves as a prototype for a potential operational forecast system. Before they can be transitioned to operations, demonstration forecast systems must prove that there is a user need for the forecasts, the state of the science is mature and that there are resources available to support the system in the long term. This is a selective process because, by definition, operational products are routine, reliable and systematic, with an institutional commitment from NOAA to continue to create and deliver high quality forecast products.
Cyanobacteria in the Great Lakes
NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has developed a demonstration system for the detection and monitoring of Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (CyanoHABs). This work has led to methods for reliable detection of CyanoHABs with satellite. The goals of this work are to routinely monitor and forecast these blooms in areas like the Laurentian Great Lakes and in freshwater estuaries. In 2008, NCCOS, with the support of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), produced the first bulletins on the location of CyanoHABs in Lake Erie. Weekly bulletins each summer since then have provided nowcasts and forecasts of bloom location and intensity. For more information, contact Michelle Tomlinson or Richard Stumpf.
Alexandrium fundyense in the Gulf of Maine
Alexandrium fundyense, also known as New England Red Tide, produces a potent and potentially lethal neurotoxin that accumulates in shellfish and can cause a syndrome called Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) in humans, necessitating closure of shellfish harvesting to protect human health. Based on more than 15 years of funding from the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) and Monitoring and Event Response for HABs (MERHAB) programs, as well as additional funding from NSF ECOHAB and NSF/NIEHS Oceans and Human Health, a consortium of researchers and state resource managers and a representative of the shellfish industry have developed coupled biophysical models of A. fundyense in the Gulf of Maine. These models have been used to forecast the annual severity of blooms and to provide managers with weekly forecasts of bloom location and magnitude in a test mode since 2008. NOAA is now in the process of planning to transition the models to operations as part of the HAB Operational Forecast System (HAB-OFS) through a collaboration between scientists funded by the Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of HABs (PCMHAB) program, and NOAA's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA), Coast Survey Development Laboratory (CSDL), and Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS). For more information on this effort contact Dennis McGillicuddy, Rouying He, Aijun Zhang or Rick Stumpf.
Pseudo-nitzschia on the Washington Coast
Species of Pseudo-nitzschia produce the neurotoxin domoic acid that accumulates in shellfish and can cause a syndrome called Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) in mammals and birds. Humans that consume contaminated shellfish become severely ill and can die, so it is necessary to close affected shellfish beds to protect human health. Along the Washington coast, razor clams and Dungeness crabs are particularly likely to accumulate the toxin. A Pacific Northwest HAB Bulletin identifying conditions favoring presence of domoic acid was developed and tested for the Washington Pacific coast. The basis for the bulletin was research on the dynamics of Pseudo-nitzschia conducted over 10 years with funding from the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB), the NOAA Monitoring and Event Response Programs (MERHAB), the NSF ECOHAB, the NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative, and the CDC. For more information contact Vera Trainer.
HABs in the Chesapeake Bay
With funding from the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research's Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Bloom (MERHAB), the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Prediction System (CBEPS) was constructed and implemented to monitor harmful algal blooms and other environmental metrics in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The CBEPS system automatically generates daily nowcasts and three-day forecasts of several environmental variables, such as sea-surface temperature and salinity, the concentrations of chlorophyll, nitrate, and dissolved oxygen, and the likelihood of encountering several noxious species, including fish-killing harmful algal blooms such as Karlodinium veneficum and water-borne pathogens, for the purpose of monitoring the Bay's ecosystem. Additional support for the system was provided by the NOAA EcoForecasting Program, the NOAA Center for Satellite Application and Research, and Maryland Sea Grant. For more information on this effort, contact Christopher Brown or Raleigh Hood.
Psuedo-nitzschia and Domoic Acid on the California Coast
Phytoplankton blooms are seasonal phenomena along the California coast and are extremely important for supporting our diverse coastal food webs and biomass-rich fisheries. The diatom Pseudo-nitzschia is a natural part of this algal community and helps feed an abundance of zooplankton and fish. Unfortunately, for reasons still not well understood, several species in this diatom group will produce a deadly neurotoxin called domoic acid that can contaminate shellfish supplies. Sea lions also strand with signs of illness, lethargy, confusion, or seizures during spring and summer months along the CA coast as a result of domoic acid toxicosis acquired from feeding on toxic fish. Certain environmental factors have been shown to be associated with blooms and with domoic acid production by Pseudo-nitzschia. Statistical analysis allows us to create models that will produce a likelihood of finding high numbers of Pseudo-nitzschia cells and domoic acid in the water, much like a weather forecast that provides the probability of precipitation on a given day. This pre-operational project builds on funding from the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB), the NOAA Monitoring and Event Response Programs (MERHAB), and NASA Applied Sciences Program. For further information, contact Clarissa Anderson or Raphe Kudela.