PCMHAB 2011: Project Summaries

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Implementation of an Operational Model for Prediction of Alexandrium fundyense Blooms in the Gulf of Maine

Institutions: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and North Carolina State University
Investigators: Dennis J. McGillicuddy (lead), Donald M. Anderson, Ruoying He
In-brief: This project will transition the research models of toxic A. fundyense blooms in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) to operational use at NOAA.

Alexandrium fundyense, the New England “red tide” organism, produces toxins that accumulate in shellfish.  To protect human health States conduct extensive monitoring in coastal areas where shellfish are harvested and close shellfish beds to harvesting when toxin levels reach a threshold level.  Large areas of the open Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank are closed to shellfish harvesting because monitoring is not possible.  Research funding from ECOHAB and MERHAB has led to the development of a research model that has been successful since 2006 at providing seasonal and weekly predictions of the severity and location of A. fundyense blooms to more than 150 managers, scientists and shellfish industry representatives.  Forecasts of bloom severity are based on an annual survey of seed-like cysts in bottom sediments of the Gulf of Maine and meteorological and hydrographic conditions prior to and during the bloom season.  Forecasts give managers and the shellfish industry early warning so they can take steps to minimize the public health and economic impacts.  Shellfish harvesting closures due to red tides in the Gulf of Maine are estimated to cost approximately $2,000,000/week in the State of Maine alone.

Objectives: This project will transition the research models of toxic A. fundyenseblooms in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) to operational use at NOAA.  Partners include NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (COOPs), Coastal Survey Development Lab (CSDL), and Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA), academics, federal and state resource managers, industry and the regional Ocean Observing System, NERACOOS

Approach: In order to make this model operational, the project proposes the following approaches:

  1. Implement the model codes onto NCEP computers and test in hindcast mode
  2. Meet CO-OPS requirements for documentation and training;
  3. Acquire key data streams and identify future observational needs;
  4. Run the model routinely for pre-operational demonstration in 2013, 2014, and 2015;
  5. Link management data to the model, via a shellfish toxicity submodel;
  6. Review and revise forecast products with users;
  7. Codify criteria for skill assessment, and evaluate hindcast simulations 2005-2015;
  8. Establish a methodology for ensemble forecasting and sensitivity analysis;
  9. Implement mechanisms for continued improvement to the underlying models and products that are generated; and
  10. Conduct cruises to survey cyst abundance in bottom sediments of the Gulf of Maine as part of an effort to determine the minimum number of sampling locations necessary for making the HAB forecasts.

Expected results: Seasonal and weekly forecasts of Alexandrium blooms in the Gulf of Maine will be issued by NOAA every year prior to and during the spring and summer, when blooms are most likely to occur.  Such early warning will reduce the human health threat and economic impacts. 

Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) Development: Targeting Cost Reductions, Robustness and an Improved User Interface

Institutions: McLane Research Laboratories (lead), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Spyglass Biosecurity 
Investigators: Ivory Engstrom (lead), Cheri Everlove, Yuki Honjo, Susumu Honjo, Donald M. Anderson, Christopher A. Scholin, Christopher Melancon 
In-brief: The Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) is an automated sampling device capable of providing early warning of harmful algal blooms before they can endanger human lives and commerce, but is costly to build and operate.  This project will will re-engineer the ESP in order to make it more affordable, reliable, and usable to industry, coastal resource managers, and researchers.

The Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) is a fully automated, highly compact, miniature underwater genomic research laboratory based on an electromechanical (robotic), microfluidic system designed to collect discrete water samples, concentrate microorganisms or particles, and automate application of molecular probes in order to identify target microorganisms and gene products. Data generated are then available for remote retrieval and analysis in near real-time. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), the developer of the ESP, has deployed ESPs that are producing reliable data. McLane Research Laboratories (MRL) produced the first commercial ESP, which was recently delivered to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to be utilized directly in HAB detection and research. The ESP is a unique and revolutionary instrument with a proven ability to detect HAB cells and toxins and deliver those data to shore. This technology has the potential to dramatically alter the nature of HAB research and management in the U.S. and the world, but significant obstacles presently constrain the widespread acquisition and deployment of the current instrument, which is expensive (~$200K) and requires specialized knowledge and handling for deployment, operation, and maintenance. The overall objective of this proposal is therefore to modify the ESP hardware and software to make it a more affordable, reliable, versatile, and useable instrument that is accessible to a wide community of local, state and federal resource managers, the shellfish or fish-farming industries, and the scientific community. Specific project objectives are to: 1) Build a current model of ESP for testing purposes, quantify its robustness, and obtain measurable operational parameters for the instrument; 2) Make improvements to the current system design to increase reliability and serviceability; 3) Explore modifications that would reduce overall costs to the end user; and 4) Improve the user interface in order to reduce operator error and facilitate easier error recovery and manual operation. To aid our investigation we have three unfunded collaborators who have generously offered their support: Dr. Chris Scholin (MBARI) the inventor of the ESP, Dr. Don Anderson (WHOI) an expert on HABs and a current ESP user, and Chris Melancon (Spyglass Biosecurity). Anderson and Scholin will provide crucial input on operational aspects of the instrument and Melancon will offer input on assays, reagents and reagent delivery. A Transition Advisory Committee (TAC) comprised of managers, engineers, scientists, and ESP users will help to guide the project through frequent meetings and exchanges of information and ideas. With the improvements to the ESP proposed here, the instrument will become accessible to a far larger user group than is presently the case, greatly improving capabilities for monitoring and managing HABs in marine and freshwater systems and ultimately mitigating the economic and health impacts of these phenomena.

Biological Degradation of Microcystins: A First Step Towards Biofilters for High Efficiency Toxin Removal

Institutions: University of Tennessee (lead) and State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry 
Investigators: Steven W. Wilhelm (lead) and Gregory L. Boyer
In-brief: This project will examine the feasibility of using local bacteria to destroy microcystins, a toxin produced by a freshwater cyanobacteria that can contaminate municipal water supplies.

Based on their findings, the project team will assess the infrastructure required for a microcystin bio-filter. Research over the last decade has demonstrated bacteria that co-occur in the environment with toxic cyanobacteria blooms have the ability to break down cyanobacterial toxins: sometimes using these toxins as sole carbon sources. The University of Tennessee has isolated such organisms from Lake Erie, and acquired the original Australian isolate to degrade microcystins. This proposal will identify new microcystin-degrading species and characterize their decomposition of microcystins, a class of cyanotoxins that have been detected annually in the Laurentian Great Lakes since 1995. Field samples will be collected from, western Lake Erie, embayments of Lake Ontario, and obtained from international locations via ongoing research programs (e.g., Lake Tai (aka Taihu) in eastern China). The rates of biological microcystin decomposition will be determined along with the identity of end products and factors constraining this process (temperature, inorganic nutrient availability). Biological characterizations (growth rate, growth efficiency, ability to use as sole carbon source vs. biological “doping” with stimulatory organic and inorganics, and genetic identity) will be coupled with chemical measurements of toxin and breakdown product concentrations. These are the essential first steps for development of a biological filter for toxin removal. Specific objectives of this proposal include: (1) Isolate microcystin-degrading bacteria from blooms in Lakes Erie, Ontario and Tai. (2) Identify bacteria (from 1) capable of using microcystins as a sole carbon source. (3) Characterize bacteria and their growth rates under different conditions of temperature, nutrients and available carbon. (4) Characterize degradation rates of microcystins under different physiological conditions. (5) Identify the degradation products formed by these bacteria, including estimates of toxicity. (6) Identifying a physical infrastructure (filter support, type, etc) that can be used in a bioreactor for the degradation of microcystins. (7) Identify and address the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for application of a biofilter to remove microcystins from an external body of water. The information on their rates of toxin degradation, byproducts and other metabolites produced by the degrading organism as well as microbial growth (both in lab or on the potential platform) will be used select a subset of bacteria for further study and testing in the bioreator. The endgoal of this phase I study is to develop and deploy a biological “digester” under “pilot plant” conditions, similar to those currently used for the removal of other persistent organic pollutants. This process is now constrained from moving forward due to the lack basic information on the growth of the organisms, process rates and the nature of the resulting end products. This effort is an essential first step for preparation of a scalable biological filtration system to mitigate and prevent microcystins from passing into water distribution systems. Potential end users include resource managers and water providers, but may also include aquaculture, recreational water body managers or agricultural providers. To help address the engineering and regulatory challenges for incorporation of this technology into existing water infrastructure, this project has established an advisory team that includes a representative from a large water engineering firm and NEPA experts to help guide the early development of the technology.

Last updated: July 11, 2016