The Lake Erie algal bloom has often been described as mean, green and obscene. To make matters worse, if you’ve ever experienced an algal bloom in person, you would also know that it stinks… literally.
What gives? What is being done about this yearly outbreak in our Great Lake Erie? The Ohio Sea Grant College Program has been and continues to be one of the key leaders in research, education and outreach on this critical issue. This blog posting will discuss key research initiatives that Ohio Sea Grant is tackling head on with local, state, university and federal partners.
A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is any large increased density of algae that is capable of producing toxins. In freshwater, such as Lake Erie, those algae tend to be cyanobacteria — more commonly known as blue-green algae — which grow excessively in warm water with a high phosphorus concentration.
Phosphorus enters the water from agriculture, suburban and urban sources. The likelihood of such runoff is strongly affected by climatic factors including drought, severe weather and temperature.
Much of the harmful algal bloom research seeks to understand both how phosphorus and other elements, such as nitrogen, affect algal blooms and how runoff can be reduced without negative impacts to farming and other industries. Other projects focus on the public health impacts of toxic algal blooms, ranging from drinking water issues to food contamination.
Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative
The Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI), created in the aftermath of the 2014 Toledo water crisis, provides near-term solutions for the full suite of issues surrounding harmful algal blooms. Guided by the technical needs of state agencies at the front lines of the HABs crisis, Ohio universities are the engines for creating new knowledge, new technologies and new approaches to give us both short-term assistance and long-term solutions.
After the Toledo water crisis in August 2014, the Ohio Department of Higher Education (then the Ohio Board of Regents) allocated $2 million to Ohio universities for research to solve the harmful algal bloom problem in Lake Erie. The funding was matched by participating universities for a total of more than $4 million.
Led by representatives from The Ohio State University and The University of Toledo, and managed by Ohio Sea Grant, the initial efforts of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) entailed 18 projects involving researchers from seven Ohio universities and partners as far away as South Dakota and Japan.
The Lake Erie algal bloom research has been broken down into four major categories (please click each link for information on funded research efforts):
- Tracking Blooms from the Source
- Protecting Public Health
- Producing Safe Drinking Water and,
- Engaging Stakeholders
The HABRI has launched a new round of agency-directed research every year since 2015, with the first round of projects completed in spring 2017. The Ohio Department of Higher Education has funded all research, with matching funds contributed by participating universities. For the 2018 cohort, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) will provide matching funds for some of the research and monitoring activities undertaken as part of the statewide effort.
The initiative also provides invaluable training for Ohio students, from undergraduate to doctoral candidates, which distinguishes university research from other scientific institutions and gives taxpayers a double return on their investment.
Input from partners such as the OEPA, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Lake Erie Commission ensures that projects complement state agency efforts to protect Ohio’s fresh water and that results address known management needs to ensure sustainable water for future generations.
HABRI used Ohio Sea Grant’s proposal development system to streamline project proposals, project management and public engagement, capitalizing on Sea Grant’s strong reputation among various stakeholder groups including the research community.
For more information, please see Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative Year 2 Report and Executive Summary.
Source: Ohio Sea Grant College Program- Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative
Submitted by: Joe Lucente, Associate Professor, Community Development, OSU Extension and Ohio Sea Grant College Program