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MERHAB: GOM-ESP: Incorporation of Environmental Sample Processor Technology into Gulf of Maine HAB Monitoring and Management

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Possible Gulf of Maine deployment sites for ESP instruments as well as locations where we would ultimately like to see instruments deployed, should more funding be available. (Don Anderson laboratory, WHOI)

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ESP-chris deployed off Portsmouth, NH.

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A schematic of the ESP mooring assembly. (Paul Oberlander, WHOI)

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ESP Deployment Video
Deployment of ESPchris from R/V Tioga
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Related Links

» Northeast PSP website

» Harmful Algae page

PIs: D.M. Anderson, D.J. McGillicuddy, Jr., B.A. Keafer, D.W. Townsend, C.A. Scholin

Funded by the Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) program of the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR), National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) of the National Ocean Service (NOS).


Coastal waters of New England are subject to recurrent outbreaks of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) caused by the dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense. Nearshore shellfish beds between the Canadian border and Cape Cod are closed annually to harvesting, and thousands of km2 of offshore Federal waters have been closed for over 20 years due to PSP toxins as well. An emerging threat in the region is amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). Managers currently use shellfish tissue testing at shore-based stations to detect HAB toxins and issue closures. Although successful in protecting public health, these programs only monitor past conditions and cannot foresee or prepare for conditions that are forced by larger scale phenomena in the offshore environment which may modify nearshore toxicity. Yet another monitoring challenge reflects the strong push by the shellfish industry to reopen closed portions of Georges Bank for harvesting, where an estimated $50 million sustainable annual resource is present. These shellfish lie in offshore (federal) waters and are logistically difficult and expensive to monitor.

Now, new technologies for cell detection allow us to take a significant step forward in HAB monitoring and management in the Gulf of Maine. Specifically, the development and commercial availability of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) opens the door to the purchase and deployment of moored instruments at key locations to detect and enumerate toxic cells and radio the information to shore, providing early warning as well as time series of cell abundance to inform managers and improve the accuracy of forecasts. In the past, this capability was only available to the ESP developer at MBARI. Now, through a $2M award to PI Anderson from the NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program and additional support from EPA and NOAA, six ESPs are available for research and monitoring activities in the Gulf of Maine. The MRI award purchased the instruments, but provides no funds for deployment or operation.

Here we propose to leverage these assets and augment the regional HAB monitoring program substantially. Near real-time estimates of Alexandrium and Pseudo-nitzschia cell abundance will be provided through a proof-of-concept demonstration of the feasibility, value, and cost of ESP and associated sensor measurements in routine HAB monitoring and ocean observing operations. Four years of field deployments of ESPs and contextual sensors are planned, with the locations and schedule of those moorings determined from discussions with managers and industry representatives on the project's Technical Advisory Committee.  Mooring sites will include both nearshore and offshore locations in state and federal waters, each with different logistical challenges and management value. Mooring operations, which are a significant aspect of this project, will be supervised by the WHOI Mooring Operations, Engineering and Field Support Group. Concurrently, we will develop methods to assimilate ESP data into our numerical model, and will utilize those models and results from this project to design an optimum array of ESPs for future management purposes.  In Year 5 of the project, we will synthesize data and work with our management partners and other stakeholders to transition ESP technology to operational use for HABs in the Gulf of Maine.  Efforts will be made to assist managers with the decisions and challenges related to future ESP deployments under their jurisdiction. 

Relevant Publications:

Anderson, D.M., D.M. Kulis, B.A. Keafer, K.E. Gribble, R. Marin, and C.A. Scholin. 2005. Identification and enumeration of Alexandrium spp. from the Gulf of Maine using molecular probes. Deep-Sea Res. II 52(19-21): 2467-2490.

Anderson, D.M., C.A. Stock, B.A. Keafer, A. Bronzino Nelson, B. Thompson, D.J. McGillicuddy, M. Keller, P.A. Matrai, and J. Martin. 2005. Alexandrium fundyense cyst dynamics in the Gulf of Maine. Deep-Sea Res. II 52(19-21): 2522-2542.

Anderson, D.M., D.W. Townsend, D.J. McGillicuddy, and J.T. Turner (eds). 2005. The Ecology and Oceanography of Toxic Alexandrium fundyense Blooms in the Gulf of Maine. Deep-Sea Res. II 52: (19-21): 2365-2876.

Doucette, G.J., C.M. Mikulski, K.L. Jones, K.L. King, D.I. Greenfield, R. Marin III, S. Jensen, B. Roman, C.T. Elliott, and C.A. Scholin. 2009. Remote, subsurface detection of the algal toxin domoic acid onboard the Environmental Sample Processor: assay development and field trials. Harmful Algae 8(6): 880-888. doi:10.1016/j.hal.2009.04.006.

McGillicuddy, D.J., Jr., D.M. Anderson, D.R. Lynch, and D.W. Townsend. 2005. Mechanisms regulating large-scale seasonal fluctuations in Alexandrium fundyense populations in the Gulf of Maine: Results from a physical-biological model. Deep-Sea Res. II 52(19-21): 2698-2714.

Scholin, C., G. Doucette, S. Jensen, B. Roman, et al. 2009. Remote detection of marine microbes, small invertebrates, harmful algae and biotoxins using the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP). Oceanogr. 22: 158-167.

Townsend, D.W., N.D. Rebuck, M.A. Thomas, L. Karp-Boss, and R.M. Gettings. 2010. A changing nutrient regime in the Gulf of Maine. Continental Shelf Res. 30: 820–832. 

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Last updated: November 2, 2015

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