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Track Blooms from the Source | Ohio Sea Grant

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Track Blooms from the Source

These projects aim to improve existing technologies and develop new methods to track algal blooms from start to finish, ensuring a healthy environment

Projects in this focus area aim to improve use of existing technologies as well as develop new methods to detect, prevent and mitigate harmful algal blooms and their impacts. This will help to ensure drinking water safety and a healthy environment for lakeshore residents by scientifically connecting many of the potential causes and effects of harmful algal blooms, from the farm field runoff that fuels them to the toxins that contaminate water supplies.

Projects

HAB Detection, Mapping and Warning Network: Maumee Bay Area

Principal Investigator

Thomas Bridgeman, University of Toledo


Project Summary

Harmful algal blooms often produce toxins that need to be filtered out of the water before it can be safe to drink. Currently, water treatment plants such as in Toledo, Ohio only detect these toxins in Lake Erie water when they’re already pulling the water into the plant. Since that’s not enough time to switch treatment techniques, they have to use expensive, generic techniques to ensure clean water for customers.

A team led by Thomas Bridgeman, an associate professor of environmental sciences at the University of Toledo, is developing a warning system for water treatment plants that gives them 12-24 hours of lead time before water reaches the intake in Lake Erie, allowing them to adjust treatment protocols accordingly.

By combining water quality sensors with environmental monitoring, this early warning system can be thought of as working toward a “weather radar” for harmful algal blooms, which could reduce water treatment costs during the bloom season.

The Bottom Line

Clean drinking water for communities and money savings for water plants that will be able to apply powdered activated carbon in a more targeted fashion.

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HAB Detection, Mapping, and Warning Network: Sandusky Bay

Principal Investigator

George Bullerjahn, Bowling Green State University


Project Summary

Harmful algal blooms often produce toxins that need to be filtered out of the water before it can be safe to drink. Currently, these toxins are detected at the water intake for the water plant in Sandusky, Ohio, requiring potential overtreatment of incoming water to ensure toxins are eliminated before water is delivered to customers.

A research team led by George Bullerjahn of Bowling Green State University is developing a warning system for the water plants that extends early warning capacity to 12-24 hours before water reaches the water intake in Lake Erie, allowing water plants to adjust treatment protocols before water reaches the intake.

By combining water quality sensors with environmental conditions monitoring, this early warning system could allow researchers to develop models that can predict the conditions under which harmful algal bloom toxicity could present an imminent health concern.

The Bottom Line

Clean drinking water for Ohio residents and reduced costs for municipalities, using a system that can be expanded to other communities.

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Identifying the Best Strategy to Reduce Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie from Agricultural Watersheds

Principal Investigator

Laura Johnson, Heidelberg University


Project Summary

Ohio researchers are working to identify the best strategies to reduce the amount of phosphorus that runs off farm fields that reside in the Lake Erie watershed to help improve the overall health of the Great Lake.

Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important source of harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo. As a result, this spring, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, signed an agreement to work to reduce the phosphorus by 40 percent by the year 2025.

A research team led by Laura Johnson, a research scientist at Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, is using automated sampling equipment and sensors to test water samples throughout four watersheds — Rock and Honey Creeks (subwatersheds of the Sandusky), the upper Portage River watershed, and the Blanchard River (subwatershed of the Maumee) – to identify possible hotspot locations and different sources of phosphorus runoff that may contribute to loading into Lake Erie.

The team will provide this information to regional modeling experts to help update current watershed models and thus identify the most effective and innovative methods to lessen phosphorus from entering into the Lake Erie watershed.

The Bottom Line

Cleaner water and fewer harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

    |     Download Synopsis

HAB Avoidance: Vertical Movement of Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie

Principal Investigator

Thomas Bridgeman, University of Toledo


Project Summary

Researchers from the University of Toledo, along with researchers from NOAA, Bowling Green State University, and Sinclair Community College, are working on way to understand the vertical movement of different types of algae – such as green algae, cyanobacteria and diatoms – throughout the water column to help water treatment plants better prepare for and reduce the amounts of algae they’re taking into their system over the course of a day.

During the 2016 harmful algal bloom season, water samples from boats, automated sensor buoys, and autonomous underwater vehicles (small robot submarines, essentially) combined to provide a profile of how algae were moving throughout the water column during two separate days and nights. In a related project, a drone equipped with a specialized camera developed by NASA scanned the lake surface for floating cyanobacteria.

The results left lead investigator Tom Bridgeman “pretty puzzled.” During rough lake conditions that should lead to an even mixing of algae types, green algae still somewhat concentrated near the surface, while cyanobacteria (which produce the problematic toxin in harmful algal blooms) were more evenly spread out. Only at night were all types of algae distributed evenly in the water column.

In calm conditions, when the team expected to see dense surface scum, green algae again concentrated somewhat near the surface during the day, while at night the even distribution of algae types was only disrupted by diatoms, which sank closer to the bottom of the lake.

A planning meeting before the next field season will bring together a number of related research groups to work out planning details for additional sampling trips next year, and to discuss potential explanations for this odd pattern. For now, the researchers are hitting planned milestones as expected, and they have ironed out a number of kinks, from flight permits to sampling equipment breakdowns, that will make next year’s field season more efficient.

The Bottom Line

Clean drinking water for communities and deeper knowledge of how algae move around water treatment plant intakes during calm and windy days and nights.

   

Determining Sources of Phosphorus to western Lake Erie from Field to Lake

Principal Investigator

Paula Mouser, The Ohio State University


Project Summary

Two related projects at Heidelberg University and The Ohio State University are using molecular analysis techniques to develop chemical signatures of phosphorus entering Lake Erie from various sources, such as farm fields, cattle operations, and sewage treatment plants.

The Bottom Line

Cleaner water and fewer harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

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How Quickly Can Target Phosphorus Reductions Be Met? Robust Predictions From Multiple Watersheds and Lake Models

Principal Investigator

Margaret Kalcic, The Ohio State University


Project Summary

Phosphorus runoff from predominantly agricultural watersheds in northwestern Ohio has been linked to water quality problems in Lake Erie. To reduce the negative impacts in the lake, policy makers have set 2025 as the target year to reduce phosphorus loading by 40%, with an interim goal of a 20% reduction by 2020.

A multi-university team of modeling experts is developing computer models to determine which conservation practices are most likely to lead to target reductions in phosphorus runoff from the Maumee River watershed into Lake Erie. The tools will be used to evaluate how adoption of conservation measures over time would impact overall water quality, along with predicted effects of climate change.

This project builds on an existing network of collaboration and modeling efforts. The first step was to improve the existing watershed models to more realistically simulate phosphorus application rates, including manure, as well as combined sewer overflows. Then models were calibrated to predict water quality near the mouth of the Maumee River.

Meaningful engagement of a diverse advisory group provides important guidance for the project. In September 2016 the team provided an update and sought feedback from representatives from environmental policy groups, agricultural producer groups, and state agencies. This first advisory group meeting included a productive conversation about agricultural conservation options to analyze with the models, such as changing fertilizer and manure application rates, timing, and level of incorporation into the soil, in addition to growing cover crops, managing subsurface drains, and restoring headwater wetlands.

The next advisory group meeting is planned for March 2017, to discuss preliminary results and make plans for developing conservation adoption strategies over time and under anticipated changes climate.

The Bottom Line

Realistic phosphorus reduction goals and strategies for management agencies and farmers.

   

An Investigation of Central Basin Harmful Algal Blooms

Principal Investigator

Justin Chaffin, The Ohio State University


Project Summary

While much of the current research on harmful algal blooms focuses on Lake Erie’s western basin, researchers at Ohio State’s Stone Lab are also exploring what’s happening in the central basin, between Lorain, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania.

Stone Lab vessels are sampling four fixed locations once a week, collecting data on dissolved nutrients, water temperature and algal types. In addition, the researchers work with NOAA and other scientists to chase blooms as they occur to determine which types of algae are involved and pass that information on to other agencies.

One example included a bloom of what turned out to be Dolichospermum (formerly called Anabaena) near Fairport Harbor, Ohio in July 2016. Interestingly, conditions there were far from textbook for this type of algae, with nitrate and dissolved oxygen concentrations almost the opposite of what the species usually prefers. Additionally, the toxin microcystin was not detected in samples.

Plans for next year include lowering the minimum amount of microcystin needed to detect its presence in the water (current detection limits aren’t particularly low, but can be lowered) by testing a filtered sample instead of whole water from lake samples.

The Bottom Line

Detailed data on harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie’s central basin provides better knowledge of potential toxins in the water.