Computer models are used to predict the distribution and abundance of the toxic dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense in the Gulf of Maine. These predictions take two forms: (1) a seasonal forecast issued prior to the bloom season, and (2) weekly updates that hindcast the bloom up to that date, and forecast bloom conditions for the coming week. Both systems utilize a high-resolution (1-3km in the horizontal, 36 vertical layers) model of the region, which is nested in a shelf-wide model spanning the waters from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia, which is in turn nested within a global operational model (Figure 1). This multiply-nested configuration provides the spatial resolution necessary for this coastal application, making direct use of an operational model to provide the boundary conditions needed for regional domains.
The conceptual basis of the forecast system is that, all other things being equal, the abundance of A. fundyense resting cysts is a first-order predictor of the magnitude of the bloom in the upcoming year. In a sense, this approach is analogous to techniques used for fisheries management—‘recruitment’ is measured in the autumn by quantifying the abundance of resting cysts, thereby facilitating an estimate of the ‘stock’ of A. fundyense in the subsequent bloom season. The initial condition, starting March 1 of each year, is that the concentration of A. fundyense motile (vegetative) cells is zero throughout the model domain. Cells enter the water column via germination, which is computed from the observed distribution of resting cysts and excystment rates based on laboratory measurements. The population grows as a function of light, temperature, salinity, and nutrient concentration, all of which are also constrained by experimental laboratory results. Cells are lost from the water column with a temperature-dependent mortality. All of this takes place in the complex three-dimensional hydrodynamic environment simulated by the model, which continually redistributes the population via transport and mixing (Figure 2).
In advance of each bloom season, a seasonal forecast is computed using the observed cyst abundance and a range of environmental conditions from preceding years. For example, in 2014 there were ten ensemble members, based on archived hydrodynamic hindcasts for each year, 2004-2013 (Figure 3). The resulting ensemble forecast provides an estimate of the range of possible outcomes based on recent history, analogous to the “cone of uncertainty” in hurricane forecasting. Once the season begins, the forecast model is run weekly with forcing from that particular year, using seven-day forecast atmospheric and oceanic boundary conditions. In each subsequent cycle, the forecast forcing is replaced with “reanalysis” hindcasts, and updated forecast forcing is used for the coming week. This iterative process takes place for the entire bloom season, from March 1 through August 1 (Figure 4). At present, the system is operated routinely in an academic setting but transition to operational status within NOAA is currently underway.
For the most recent descriptions of the forecast model see He et al. (2008), Li et al. (2009), and McGillicuddy et al. (2011). For cyst distributions, see Anderson et al. (2014).
Forecast results for 2006-2015 are available at:
The forecast for 2016 can be accessed here.
Anderson, D.M., Keafer, B.A., Kleindinst, J.L., McGillicuddy, D.J., Martin, J.L., Norton,K., Pilskaln, C.H., Smith, J.L., Sherwood, C.R., and B. Butman, 2014. Alexandrium fundyense cysts in the Gulf of Maine: Long-term time series of abundance and distribution, and linkages to past and future blooms. Deep-Sea Research II, 103, 6–26.
Li, Y., R. He, D. J. McGillicuddy, D. M. Anderson, and B. A. Keafer. 2009. Investigation of the 2006 Alexandrium fundyense Bloom in the Gulf of Maine: In situ Observations and Numerical Modeling. Continental Shelf Research 29: 2069-2082.
McGillicuddy, D. J., D. W. Townsend, R. He, B. A. Keafer, J. L. Kleindinst, Y. Li, J. P. Manning, D. G. Mountain, M. A. Thomas, and D. M. Anderson. 2011. Suppression of the 2010 Alexandrium fundyense bloom by changes in physical, biological, and chemical properties of the Gulf of Maine. Limnology and Oceanography 56: 2411–2426.
News Releases re Seasonal Forecasts
New Robotic Instruments to Provide Real-Time Data on Gulf of Maine Red Tide
A new robotic sensor deployed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Gulf of Maine coastal waters may transform the way red tides or harmful algal blooms (HABs) are monitored and managed in New England. A second such instrument will be launched later this spring.
Researchers Issue Forecast for 'Moderate' New England Red Tide in 2013
New England is expected to experience a “moderate” red tide this spring and summer, report NOAA-funded scientists studying the toxic algae that cause blooms in the Gulf of Maine. Red tide is caused by an alga Alexandrium fundyense, which produces a toxin that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Red tide occurs annually along some portions of the Gulf of Maine coast. This outlook is similar to the 2012 red tide which was moderate.
Researchers Report Potential for a "Moderate" New England "Red Tide" in 2012
New England is expected to experience a “moderate” regional “red tide” this spring and summer, report NOAA-funded scientists working in the Gulf of Maine to study the toxic algae that causes the bloom. The algae in the water pose no direct threat to human beings, however the toxins they produce can accumulate in filter-feeding organisms such as mussels and clams — which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in humans who consume them.
Researchers Report Potential for a Moderate New England 'Red Tide' in 2011
Scientists from the NOAA-funded Gulf of Maine Toxicity (GOMTOX) project issued an outlook for a moderate regional bloom of a toxic alga that can cause ‘red tides’ in the spring and summer of this year, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry. However, there are signs this year’s bloom could be suppressed by recent changes in ocean conditions in the Gulf of Maine.
Researchers Issue Outlook for a Significant New England 'Red Tide' in 2010
Today, scientists from the NOAA-funded Gulf of Maine Toxicity (GOMTOX) project issued an outlook for a significant regional bloom of a toxic alga that can cause ‘red tides’ in the spring and summer of this year, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry. This year’s bloom could be similar to the major red tides of 2005 and 2008, according to WHOI biologist Don Anderson, principal investigator of the GOMTOX study.
Researchers Report Potential for "Moderately Large" Red Tide Outbreak in the Gulf of Maine Region for 2009
The potential for an outbreak of the phenomenon commonly called “red tide” is expected to be “moderately large” this spring and summer, according to researchers with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and North Carolina State University.
Researchers See Potential for Significant 2008 "Red Tide" Season
Researchers from WHOI and North Carolina State University are preparing for a potentially big bloom of harmful algae in New England waters this spring. A combination of abundant beds of algal seeds and excess winter precipitation have set the stage for an Alexandrium bloom similar to the historic “red tide” of 2005. Weather patterns and ocean conditions over the next few months will determine whether this year’s algal growth affects coastal shellfishing.