NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

The latest news and information about NOAA research in and around the Great Lakes


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Lake Erie Hypoxia Forecasting Project Kicks Off With Stakeholder Workshop

A collaborative research team, led by Drs. Craig Stow of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (NOAA GLERL) and Mark Rowe of the University of Michigan’s Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER),  will be holding a workshop with key stakeholders for guidance on how a forecast model could help meet the needs for information on low oxygen conditions—or hypoxia—in Lake Erie. The workshop, coming up later this spring, kicks off a 5-year project that brings together inter-agency and university scientists to produce a forecasting system that will predict the location and movement of hypoxic water in Lake Erie. The project will link a hypoxia model to NOAA’s Lake Erie Operational Forecasting System (LEOFS) hydrodynamic model, which provides daily nowcast and 5-10 day forecasts of temperature and currents in Lake Erie.

HypoxiaDiagram

Hypoxia occurs in the central basin of Lake Erie in July through September of most years. Low-oxygen water is an unfavorable habitat for fish, and may kill benthic organisms that provide food for fish. It is less well known, however, that hypoxic water can also upset drinking water treatment processes. Upwelling or seiche events can bring hypoxic water to water intakes along the shoreline, causing rapid changes in dissolved oxygen and associated water quality variables such as temperature, pH, dissolved organic matter, iron, and manganese. To maintain the quality of treated water, plant managers must adjust treatment in response to these changes. Hypoxia forecasts will provide several days advance notice of changing source water quality so that drinking water plant managers can be prepared to adjust treatment processes as needed.

While the hypoxia forecasting project will help to minimize the negative impacts of hypoxia, a parallel effort is occurring to address the root cause of this problem involving nutrient loading. Universities, state, federal, and Canadian agencies are collaborating to satisfy the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by reducing nutrient loads to Lake Erie, a primary stressor driving hypoxic conditions.

The upcoming stakeholder workshop on hypoxia will bring the research team together with stakeholders consisting of municipal drinking water plant managers from U.S. and Canadian facilities on Lake Erie, as well as representatives of state and local agencies. The group will learn about hypoxia and its effects, hear about the goals of the LEOFS-Hypoxia project, and provide input to the research team on their information needs. As the first in a series of meetings of the project’s Management Transition Advisory Group, this workshop will help identify the most useful data types and delivery mechanisms, laying the groundwork for the research team to design a forecasting tool that specifically addresses the needs of public water systems on Lake Erie.

The workshop will be held at Cleveland Water in Cleveland, Ohio. Representatives from Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Sea Grant, townships and other local governments were also invited to attend.  

The LEOFS-Hypoxia project is a collaboration with the City of Cleveland Division of Water, Purdue University, and U. S. Geological Survey, with guidance from a management advisory group including representatives from Ohio public water systems, Ohio EPA, Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), and NOAA. The work is supported by a $1.4 million award from the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research by a grant to NOAA GLERL and University of Michigan (award NA16NOS4780209).

Getting to the root cause of the problem
As part of an initiative conducted under the auspices of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Annex 4, the following forums, led by Dr. Craig Stow at GLERL, will focus on the linkage of nutrient loading to water quality degradation problems, such as hypoxia and harmful algal blooms.

  • 4/5-6: Nutrient Load Workshop
  • 5/9-10: Annex 4 (nutrients) Subcommittee Meeting

Scientists attending these workshops will apply long term research results to estimate nutrient inputs to Great Lakes waters and evaluate how well we are doing in reaching phosphorus load reduction targets established under Annex 4 of the GLWQA.

Additional Resources
NOAA GLERL Hypoxia web page: https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/HABs_and_Hypoxia/hypoxiaWarningSystem.html

Download the NOAA GLERL hypoxia infographic, here:


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Using Airplanes for Algal Bloom Prediction in Lake Erie

How can airplanes help predict harmful algal blooms (HABs)?

For several years the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using satellites to guide HAB forecasts. But, satellites have their limitations. For example, the Great Lakes region can be cloudy and satellite “cameras” can’t see through clouds. In western Lake Erie there are typically only about 20-30 usable cloud-free images during the HAB season, which limits our ability to make bloom predictions. Another challenge with satellites is that the resolution of images makes it difficult for scientists to “see” differences in the types of algae floating on the Lake Erie surface. After a big rainstorm, for instance, it is difficult to distinguish between muddy water flowing in from the Maumee River and algae that is already in the western basin.

functional-groups

The resolution of satellite images makes it difficult to distinguish the types of algae floating on the surface of the water. We can detect different algae in the lake because each algae group (shown above) releases a different color pigment that we can ‘see’/ measure from the hyperspectral sensor.

To improve HABs forecasts, during the past two summers,  GLERL has been partnering with the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER) and Skypics to use a special hyperspectral sensor on an airplane-mounted camera. This weekly airborne campaign is coordinated with the weekly Lake Erie monitoring program. The monitoring program collects samples at multiple stations around western Lake Erie and the hyperspectral sensor captures images from those sampling stations on the same day. Comparing the field collected samples with what the sensor “sees” helps us to understand how well the sensor is working for HAB detection. Additionally, we coordinate with researchers at NASA’s Cleveland office, who are also flying their own airborne imaging sensor, to cross check our results with theirs for even more robust hyperspectral data validation and quality control.


Check out this short video clip of a HAB, taken by pilot, Zach Haslick, from Skypics, as seen from the window of his airplane, while flying the hyperspectral sensor over an area of Lake Erie.

Like satellites, hyperspectral sensors collect information on HAB location and size, but since our weekly hyperspectral flyovers are done below the clouds, the images are much higher resolution compared to satellites. Because of this, the hyperspectral sensors provide more accurate and detailed information on bloom concentration, extent, and even the types of algae present in the lake.

Hyperspectral sensors measure wavelengths, or color bands, released from chlorophyll color pigments in the HAB to detect color pigments that represent different types of algal groups. The process is similar to how the human eye detects wavelengths to create images but the hyperspectral sensor detects bands of wavelengths, or colors, at greater frequencies than what the human eye, or even satellites, can detect. The pigment detection information helps us determine what type of algae is present within blooms and whether or not toxins are present. In the long run, this will help us develop even more accurate HAB forecasts.

Success! This year the hyperspectral sensor detected a bloom that was not detected by a satellite!

On September 19, the hyperspectral flyover captured a HAB scum near a drinking water intake in Lake Erie that wasn’t visible from the satellite. Using the hyperspectral images, along with our HAB Tracker forecast tool to assess the potential of the scum to mix down into the lake (see images below), we were able to provide the drinking water intake manager with an early warning of a potential HAB moving near the intake.

hab-tracker-prediction-of-sept-19-hab-scum

hab-tracker-run-on-sept-22-comparison-with-flyover

Hyperspectral sensing imagers offer drinking water intake managers a key resource for identifying the type and location of algal blooms near water intake systems, as was demonstrated on September 19. Now that the field season is over we have begun pouring over our data and will incorporate what we learned to improve our HAB Tracker forecast tool and, ultimately, provide better information to decision makers.

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GLERL scientists are also teaming up with other partners to test a variety of ways in which hyperspectral sensors can be useful in detecting HABs. In addition to the manned airplane studies, recently, along with a team from NASA Glenn Research Center and Sinclair Community College, researchers flew a UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) with a hyperspectral sensor over the lower Maumee River/Maumee Bay area in Lake Erie (see the photo gallery above). Concurrently, researchers from the University of Toledo collected water samples for comparison. Not only useful for tracking HABs, this also demonstrates the successful use of a UAS for other types of environmental monitoring.

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Analyzing Algal Toxins in Near Real-Time

This morning, along side our partners at the University of Michigan’s Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER), we deployed the very first Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) in a freshwater system.

An ESP is an autonomous robotic instrument that works as a ‘lab in a can’ in aquatic environments to collect water samples and analyze them for algal toxins. This allows for near real-time (only a couple of hours for remote analyzation as opposed to a day or more back at the lab) detection of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and their toxins. GLERL’s ESP—named the ESPniagara—will measure concentrations of Microcystin, the dominant algal toxin in the Great Lakes. It will also archive samples, allowing us to genetically detect Microcystis, the predominant HAB in the Great Lakes, back in the laboratory.

There are 17 ESPs throughout the world and the ESPniagara is the only one (so far) being used in freshwater. We’ve placed it near the Toledo drinking water intake in western Lake Erie to collect and analyze water and detect concentrations of toxins that may be a health risk to people swimming, boating or drinking Lake Erie water. We’ll post the data from the on our HABs and Hypoxia webpage  so that drinking water managers and other end users can make water quality/ public health decisions.

The goal of this research is to provide drinking water managers with data on algal toxicity before the water reaches municipal water intakes. ESPniagara will strengthen our ability to both detect and provide warning of potential human health impacts from toxins.

This research proves to be a great collaborative effort for GLERL, CILER, and our partners. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) first developed the ESP, which is now commercially manufactured by McLane Laboratories. GLERL purchased the ESPniagara with funding from EPA-Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. NOAA-National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) developed the technology to detect Microcystins (an ELISA assay). NCCOS funding also supported previous work to demonstrate the viability of ESP technology to assist in monitoring and forecasting of HABs and their related toxins in the marine environment.

We plan to have the ESPniagara out in western Lake Erie for the next 30 days. Check back later this week and next for a few videos, photos, and some pretty cool data. For more information, check out our HABs and Hypoxia website and read up on the ESP.


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UPDATE: GLERL Releases Drifter Buoys into Lake Erie

Update 08/09/2016: The buoys have drifted ashore and are being collected! The map below shows their full journey.

drifters map 2.1-01.png

This map shows the journey of the drifters from July 5, 2016 to August 5, 2016. Created by Kaye LaFond for NOAA GLERL. Click image to enlarge.

 

Original post 07/13/2016:

Last week, GLERL scientists released two mobile buoys with GPS tracking capabilities, known as ‘Lagrangian drifters’, into Lake Erie. We are now watching the buoys move around the lake with interest, and not just because it’s fun. The drifters help us test the accuracy of our Lake Erie hydrodynamics model, known as the Lake Erie Operational Forecasting System (LEOFS).

drifters map 2 [Converted]-01.png

This map shows the progress of the drifters as of July 13, 2016 08:19:00. Created by Kaye LaFond for NOAA GLERL. Click image to enlarge.

LEOFS is driven by meteorological data from a network of buoys, airports, coastal land stations, and weather forecasts which provide air temperatures, dew points, winds, and cloud cover.  The mathematical model then predicts water levels, temperatures, and currents (see below).

ewndcur_latest

An example of outputs from the Lake Erie Operational Forecast System (LEOFS)

 

We use these modeled currents to predict the path that something like, say, an algae bloom would take around the lake. In fact, this is the basis of our HAB tracker tool.

The strength of LEOFS is in how well the modeled currents match reality.  While there are a number of stationary buoys in Lake Erie, none provide realtime current measurements.  The drifters allow us to see how close we are getting to predicting the actual path an object would take.

Researchers will compare the actual paths of the drifters to the paths predicted by our model. This is a process known pretty universally as ‘in-situ validation’ (in-situ means “in place”). Comparing our models to reality helps us to continually improve them.

For more information and forecasts, see our Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting homepage.

For an up-to-date kmz file of the drifters (that opens as an animation in Google Earth), click here.

 

 


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Working to understand the drivers of bloom toxicity in Lake Okeechobee

IMG_0207Last week, GLERL scientist Tim Davis spent time down in Florida sampling and conducting field experiments in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River, two major freshwater ecosystems in Florida that are currently under a state of emergency due to the presence of harmful algal blooms.

IMG_0197The sampling and research we’re doing in Lake Okeechobeeo helps us get a better understanding of the environmental drivers behind changes in bloom toxicity—a main focus of the research we’re doing within our HAB research program. The work we’re doing throughout western Lake Erie, has led the creation of an experimental Lake Erie HAB Tracker and Lake Erie Experimental HAB forecast, which are used by water treatment managers and others to make important decisions about water quality in the region. 

This collaboration with CILER (Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research), Stony Brook University and USGS, will prove beneficial to the continued research and better understanding of ecosystem health effects related to human-influenced water quality degradation, not only in the Great Lakes, but throughout all large freshwater systems. By comparing the genetic characteristics of the blooms in Florida to those that occur in Lake Erie, we hope to not only better understand toxicity, but also whether or not we can apply the same techniques of forecasting and monitoring in Lake Erie to other large bodies of freshwater around the world.

GLERL will continue to receive bloom samples for genetic testing of the Lake Okeechobee HAB for the rest of the season.  

Note: For specific information about the bloom in Florida, please visit 
the responding agencies' website: 

For sampling information please visit Florida Department of
Environmental Protection: 
https://depnewsroom.wordpress.com/algal-bloom-monitoring-an
d-response/ 

For health information please visit Florida Department of
Health:
http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/index.html

For information on water management in the region please
visit South Florida Water Management District:
http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/sfwmdmain/home%20pa
ge 

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2016 Lake Erie HABs Forecast Has Arrived

Earlier today, NOAA and partners released their forecast of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) for the summer of 2016. The official predicted bloom severity came in at a 5.5, far milder than last year’s 10.5, although still significant.

This spring has been relatively dry, sporting a 4 inch rain deficit since May 2016, and flows in the Maumee River are down. Consequently, the amount of total bioavailable phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie that could feed blooms is lower than the past three years.

This doesn’t mean the source of the nutrients – mainly agricultural runoff – has been addressed. Heavy, intense rainfall in the future could pick up excess nutrients and create severe blooms again.

There is a high uncertainty associated with this summer’s forecast (ranging from 3 to 7) because we don’t know for sure what the overwinter effect from last summer’s bloom is going to be — phosphorous and algae material could remain in the water and boost this year’s bloom.

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2016 HABs Forecast

NOAA GLERL and partners will be keeping an eye on Lake Erie all summer, and in September, we’ll be sending our Environmental Sample Processor (ESPniagara) on its first mission to monitor algal toxins in real-time near the Toledo water intake.

For more information, check out our new and improved HABs and Hypoxia homepage.