Decision Support Tools for Nutrients and HABs

Algae is commonly part of a healthy ecosystem, but blue-green algae produce toxins that can harm both humans and aquatic life, these are referred to as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Microcystis, the most common blue-green algae in the Great Lakes, produces the toxin Microcystin. This toxin may cause liver damage, skin irritation, and flu-like symptoms in humans. “Loading” of soluble reactive phosphorus (from sources such as agricultural fertilizer, sewage treatment plants, and industrial runoff) into lake watersheds contributes to these blooms. While Lake Erie’s Western Basin is best known for HABs, blooms also occur in western Lake Michigan, Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, and Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, as well as some inland tributaries.

The Great Lakes HABs (Harmful Algal Blooms) and Hypoxia program is a collaborative effort between scientists at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) offsite link. Our team is focused on understanding ecosystem health effects in the Great Lakes related to human-influenced water quality degradation.

We use an integrated approach to understand the environmental drivers of and predict HABs and hypoxia. This approach consists of using satellite images, remote sensing buoys, a comprehensive monitoring program in western Lake Erie and in Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron that includes advanced genetic techniques to understand the long and short-term seasonal dynamics of HAB events.

Algal blooms undergoing testing at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Better assessment, better outcomes

This project will aid in the implementation of a decision support tool framework for environmental and public health officials that encompasses several measurements of nutrient loads and water quality in the nearshore. As part of a framework, which includes both measurement and prediction of water quality in the nearshore, this project will provide the monitoring information to aid in characterization and transport of phosphorus and other nutrients, the formation and growth of harmful algal blooms, as well as provide the information necessary to assess target loads in agricultural watershedsThis framework will enable decision makers (e.g. water treatment operators) to ensure safe drinking water and alert water treatment plants of changes in water quality.

Please visit GLERL’s updated Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia website. The new website features real-time monitoring data, algal toxin concentrations, and updated forecasts of bloom size and extent as well as a perspective of vertical mixing algal blooms in the water.

The newest feature is the regularly updated experimental HAB Tracker, which provides 5-day predictions of algal bloom intensity and movement. HAB Tracker is a timely experimental decision-making tool for water intake managers, anglers, recreational boaters, and beach users.

Experimental Lake Erie HAB bulletin

Lake Erie HAB Bulletin E-Mail Sign Up

An experimental HAB bulletin has been developed that provides a weekly forecast for Microcystis blooms in western Lake Erie. When a harmful bloom is detected by the experimental system, scientists issue a bulletin that reports the HAB’s current location, forecasts its future movement, and categorizes its intensity. Current and archived bulletins are available online, allowing decision-makers, coastal community residents, and visitors alike to better monitor and plan around the presence of HABs.

Latest bulletin (.pdf)

We will continue to evaluate and improve these early predictive models for E. coli and HABs, all with the objective of enhancing our understanding of these Great Lakes challenges and reducing their impact. Keep checking back for updates!

FY 2024: $2,475,899

FY 2023: $2,300,000

FY 2022: $2,000,000

FY 2021: $1,800,000

FY 2020: $1,949,529

FY 2019: $1,427,000

FY 2018: $1,570,000

FY 2017: $1,427,000

FY 2015: $836,000

FY 2014: $836,000

FY 2013: $1,002,000

FY 2012: $844,000

FY 2010: $2,000,000