National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Wallops Flight Facility

Phytoplankton

COASTAL PHYTOPLANKTON TAXONOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY PROGRAM

Harmful Algal Bloom Detection and Characterization

The occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) is increasing in frequency and severity in many US coastal environments worldwide. HABs contain high densities of unicellular algae, which can cause mass mortalities of marine organisms and disrupt ecosystem links and dynamics. The algae can also cause a variety of illnesses. The incidence of these blooms may be a marker for changes in the global environment due to the result of human activities (e.g. high nutrient input into coastal waters) or cyclical changes in global climate. In addition to risks to human health and environmental impact, significant economic losses occur due to closure of aquaculture businesses, fisheries, and tourism. It has been estimated that blooms pose a potential threat to every coastal state and involve a multitude of different species. To resolve these issues, federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research have initiated a strategic research program on the ecology and oceanography of HABs (EcoHAB). These have applications for the Global Ocean Observing System that has a component of which to address harmful algal blooms that are in increasing occurrence worldwide due to increased eutrophication in part due to increase land use.

Figure 1. Global map denoting regions of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.

Under Director Discretionary Funds, we are developing methodology to remotely sense harmful algal blooms with the intention of developing a harmful algal bloom observing system. Our initial goal was to develop a method to detect harmful algal blooms using passive remote sensing in order to understand the oceanography and ecology of harmful algal blooms. We will utilize a Cessna 310 in order to capture these bloom events. Together with Wayne Wright, we will utilize a passive hyperspectral radiometer, mounted video camera, and sea surface temperature radiometer. Wayne Wright will develop a passive radiometer sensor to optimize the detection of harmful algal blooms. Also, under the auspices of Director Discretionary Funds, we are developing a low cost hyperspectral radiometer that will be mounted on a small boat and/or dock to measure remote sensing reflectance. The potential for distributing this instrumentation to a state or environmental monitoring body is high due to the low cost of the instrument configuration. Our initial goal is to develop an inexpensive instrument to detect the presence versus absence of harmful algal bloom species. We are currently working with the local Marine Science Consortium (Drs. Julie Ambler and Andrew Mueller, Millersville University) to test it on their research vessel as part of an educational tool for undergraduate education.

Phytoplankton Productivity Estimates

Together with Dr. Walker O. Smith and graduate student Jill Peloquin (College of William and Mary), we are developing a primary productivity model that is based on the ocean color satellite chlorophyll a product. The model is a physiological-optical model that utilizes environmental controls such as temperature and light that can be derived as satellite products. This work focuses on primary productivity along the coastal regions of Antarctica.

Phytoplankton Primary Productivity Characterization

Under NASA NRA funding, we are characterizing the phytoplankton physiology under controlled environmental conditions. The proposal seeks to understand the environmental controls of phytoplankton taxonomic indicator pigments. The proposal focuses on understanding ecologically important species in the coastal zone.

Educational Outreach

Under Director Discretionary Funds, we are also currently developing a low cost hyperspectral sun photometer that will be mounted on a small boat and/or dock to measure remote sensing reflectance. We are currently working with the local Marine Science Consortium (Julie Ambler and Andrew Mueller, Millersville University) to test it on their research vessel as part of an educational tool for undergraduate education. Other collaborators include Mr. Eric Sherry (Marine Science Consortium (MSC)), Mr. Brian Campbell, Code 970 (Education Outreach Specialist), and Ed Parot (Educational Specialist).

Collaborators:

Lead Investigator: Tiffany Moisan