Harmful Algal Blooms - HABs

Harmful Algal Blooms | Water Quality | What Causes Harmful Algal Blooms

What is a Harmful Algal Bloom?

Harmful Algal Bloom

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are a real water quality problem. Understanding what this problem is, being aware of when the problem exists and then being able to act on the problem before it is unmanageable is critical to the health of our water bodies.

Let’s work backwards on the phrase “Harmful Algal Bloom” to better understand it. The term “bloom” refers to an overgrowth of algae, and “bloom” is quite fitting because the burst of growth can occur very rapidly. Blooms can look very different from site to site, and at a given site the appearance of a bloom can even change throughout the course of the day, as algae grow and die, or as they vertically migrate through the water column.

In the phrase “Harmful Algal Bloom,” let’s talk about what algae are. In the context of HABs, the term algae refers to a very broad range of organisms, but especially to dinoflagellates, diatoms, and cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are the most relevant to our discussion of freshwater HABs, and you may also know them by the name “blue-green algae.”

See full post for more on what makes up HABs


Why Monitor for Algae?

Let's talk about why people monitor for algae. The amount and type of algae can tell you a lot about the health of that system. But first, let’s cover what we’re referring to as algae. In simple terms, algae are photosynthetic organisms like plants. We can separate out the macroalgae, such as the red, brown, and green algae – sometimes referred to as seaweeds. Let’s instead focus on the microalgae, or single-celled algae.


Monitoring for HABs - What Should You Monitor?


Monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms HABsHarmful algal blooms (HABs) have increased in both frequency and intensity in the last two decades, driven by climate change and activities that introduce growth-stimulating nutrients into waterways. Concerns related to freshwater HABs range from the innocuous but unpleasant taste and odor compounds that find their way into drinking water, to fish kills and algal toxins that are harmful to human health. These consequences have increased the pressure upon researchers, watershed managers, water utility operators and public health professionals to closely monitor for the onset of HABs and prepare to respond.

See full post on Monitoring for HABs: From Data to Decisions


Answers to HAB Monitoring Questions

HAB Water Quality Monitoring

Early detection is critical for the management and mitigation of harmful algal bloom (HAB) impacts. YSI’s total algae (TAL) sensors are a powerful tool for that purpose, and are used by thousands of people around the world for early detection. As YSI’s algae ambassador, Dr. Stephanie A. Smith hears numerous questions about the TAL sensors, and according to her, the questions in the post are by far the ones she heard most. Some of the most referenced questions include: Which sensor works best for Florida red tides? Which Sensor Works Best for Monitoring In An Estuary? Does the Chlorophyll Channel Pick Up Chlorophyll b? At what RFU do I have a Bloom?

Get the answers to your HAB Monitoring Questions


Nutrients & HABs

Algae Water Quality Monitoring

Growth-stimulating nutrients are a cause of harmful algal blooms and thus an obvious thing to monitor for, but certain types of organic matter often accompany those nutrients and can be valuable surrogates to monitor as well. Salinity is interesting particularly in coastal environments, where freshwater incursions might introduce algae into a system, at the same time reducing salinity. Most algae, such as the red tide-former Karenia brevis, have specific salinity ranges at which they can grow. The dynamics of a system and objectives of a monitoring program will dictate whether these water quality parameters will be valuable. In almost all scenarios, however, certain water quality parameters are a must-have: namely algal pigments, pH, DO, and temperature. This has proven to be true for the expansive Lake Taihu monitoring network.

Learn How Data-Driven Decisions Improve Lake Health


Red Tide

Red Tide Water Quality Monitoring

In 2018, The Florida Red Tide made global headlines, a 16-month ordeal that started around October 2017 and which didn’t subside until February 2019. Though Florida has experienced lengthier red tides, such as a 30-month event that started in 1994, the recent red tide gained broader public awareness thanks to social media and an information-hungry public that wanted to understand causes and possible solutions−and who expected The Sunshine State to take action.

The causes of red tides are contentious, forcing debate about the role of climate change and industries that contribute to red-tide-stimulating nutrient runoff. But almost everyone is in agreement, Florida must protect human health, marine animals, and its tourism-based economy.

Red Tide Monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico


Are You Ready for Harmful Algal Bloom Season?


To prepare for HAB season, you should get an understanding of pigments, and understanding what it is exactly that we're monitoring and also learn a details about algae sensor technologies. A deeper understanding of the technologies will help you understand data that you collect. To further prepare for HAB season, the topic of calibration should be considered, because sometimes people are confused about it and we want to make sure you're not. How all of that comes together in the real world because as we know, what happens in the lab does stay in the lab, it's really not how things play out in the real world, so we'll take a look at interferences and some really exciting projects where these algae technologies are being used.

Get Ready for Harmful Algal Bloom Season


What’s the Latest in HAB Research and Technology?

HABs Monitoring Technology

The 10th U.S. HAB Symposium in Orange Beach, Alabama,offered presentations by some of the best harmful algal bloom (HAB) researchers in the world, talks and posters by students who will be tomorrow’s leaders, and new insights into public awareness and policy. Some of the most exciting technological advances were rooted in classical technologies, such as the HABScope built for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS). The HABScope combines a very basic microscope with software and telemetry so that a citizen scientist with minimal training can transmit on-the-spot cell counts of the red-tide former Karenia brevis. It was also exciting to see how technologies like MBARI’s Environmental Sample Processor have evolved into an AUV-deployable form factor, opening up the potential for full commercialization and expansion of the on-board assays and sensors. The conference abstracts (PDF) reveal both incremental and significant advances in our understanding of nutrient pollution, climate change, and microbial communities that all influence bloom dynamics and impacts, and which were the dominant topics of the conference.

The Latest in HAB Research and Technology


How Algae Sensors Work

Algae Sensor Water Quality

With limited means for prevention and mitigation of harmful algal blooms in source waters, early detection via in situ monitoring provides the opportunity to plan a response. YSI measures blue-green algae in real-time through the in vivo fluorometry technique. This method directly detects the fluorescence of a specific pigment in living algal cells and determines relative algal biomass. YSI's Total Algae Sensors are for early detection, enabling rapid response and management. Algae Measurement Options include: handheld sampling, long term monitoring, and continuous monitoring with buoys and platforms.

YSI Total Algae Sensors How Algae Sensors Work


Water Quality | Who's Minding the Planet?

This is another summer where harmful algal blooms, red tides, beach closings, and images of dead sea-life dominate the news. One recent summer in particular, saw a toxin from a harmful algal bloom form and eventually contaminate the drinking water source for the City of Toledo, Ohio. Eventually prompting a ‘do not drink’ order.