Technology:Researchers Report Potential for a “Moderate” New England ‘Red Tide’ in 2012

By John Wickham, Program Analyst, Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR), National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)

This article is one in a periodic series regarding CSCOR activities and sponsored research. You can also see the blog for other articles about the work being done by CSCOR.

The microscopic alga, Alexandrium fundyense, blooms in New England waters every year producing a potent toxin that accumulates in shellfish; this toxin can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in human consumers. Scientists from the CSCOR-funded Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms (PCMHAB) research project in the Gulf of Maine issued an outlook for moderate regional blooms of Alexandrium

This alga can cause toxic ‘red tides’ each Spring and Summer, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry.  Early warning helps state managers and the shellfish industry protect human health and minimize economic impacts.  Direct and indirect costs of the severe 2005 Alexandrium bloom were estimated at nearly $50 million for Massachusetts and $23 million for Maine.

Seasonal outlooks for the Gulf of Maine have been issued annually since 2008. They are part of a NOAA effort to develop a HAB Operational Forecasting System that will provide HAB forecasts similar to routine weather forecasts.  The Gulf of Maine is one of several regions for which HAB forecasts are being developed with the intent to operationalize them within NOAA, utilizing multiple assets such as those provided by the National Weather Service.

The PCMHAB project, under the leadership of Dr. Dennis McGillicuddy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), issued the forecast based on an Alexandrium cyst survey map measured the previous Autumn (cysts are bottom-dwelling, dormant, resting cells that germinate under favorable oceanographic conditions).  The outlook derives from computer model simulations using the cyst map, weather, and oceanographic data from this and past years.  The researchers believe the 2012 bloom could be moderate in geographic extent, similar to the levels experienced during 2006 and 2007.   Scientists cannot make a precise “forecast” of where and when the bloom will end up because bloom transport depends on weather events that cannot be predicted months in advance. More precise weekly forecasts are provided to managers while blooms are on-going.

Learn more about the forecast and the model from the WHOI Press Release and NOAA HAB Operational Forecasting.

For more information contact Quay Dortch, Program Coordinator, Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Program and Acting Program Manager, Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms (PCMHAB) Program

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