The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded nearly $5 million to an interdisciplinary team from six institutions including the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) to investigate how climate change and extreme precipitation events exacerbate harmful algal blooms, such as red tide, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Researchers from UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory will build on work they’ve been doing on harmful algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay to help understand what is happening on the western Florida shelf.
“We are excited about this project because it builds on the predictive modeling work that we have been doing in Chesapeake Bay,” said co-investigator and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Professor Pat Glibert. “We’ll be taking many of the approaches that we learned about harmful algal blooms here and exporting them to coastal Florida.”
UMCES Professors Pat Glibert and Ming Li have been working on develop a new model to better predict the long-term occurrences of dangerous and costly harmful algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay. Like many waterways around the world, the Bay and its tributaries have long suffered from harmful algae blooms, or HABs, caused by excess nutrients running off of the land, due largely to a continually growing population and the development of animal and plant agriculture in the watershed.
“We are concerned about harmful algal blooms because they are increasing in frequency and magnitude. We see more blooms more often in more places,” said Glibert. “We are hoping to advance the understanding of the Florida red tides, which were devastating last year.”
Last year, the western coast of Florida suffered one of the worst bouts of red tide—a bloom of the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis—in the state’s history. The bloom, which dissipated this past February, was one of the largest in 10 years plagued the eastern Gulf Coast for more than 15 months and resulted in massive economic and environmental impacts, including beach closures, people visiting emergency rooms, hundreds of dead manatees and turtles, and major fish kills.
The recent bloom highlighted the need to address aspects of K. brevis bloom ecology that have been understudied: the role of extreme weather events in the intensity and duration of blooms, and the factors that lead to bloom decline. Little is known of the biological, chemical, and physical factors