WHOI oceanographers Dennis McGillicuddy and Anderson, and North Carolina State University (NCSU) Prof. Ruoying He are several years along in the development of a computer model to predict the intensity and location of blooms of the toxic algae Alexandrium fundyense in the Gulf of Maine. The model is initiated from the cyst abundance maps, and simulates Alexandrium germination, growth and dispersal using each year's winds, sunlight, rainfall, tides, and currents.
Scientists are reluctant to make a "forecast" of precisely where and when the regional bloom will make landfall because bloom transport depends on weather events that cannot be predicted months in advance.
"Our research has shown that cyst abundance in the fall is an indicator of the magnitude of the bloom in the following year," said GOMTOX member McGillicuddy. "However, even if there is a large bloom offshore, certain wind patterns and ocean currents in the late spring and summer are needed to transport it onshore where it can affect coastal shellfish."
Coastal exposure to the blooms is worst for scenarios in which the spring and summer weather is dominated by strong northeast winds, which tend to drive Alexandrium cells toward the New England coast. That occurred last year (2009), when an unusual series of northeast winds in late June and early July led to closure of almost the entire Maine coast to shellfishing. In contrast, when southwesterlies dominate, the algae tend to stay offshore.
GOMTOX researchers regularly share their field observations and models with more than 80 coastal resource and fisheries managers in six states as well as federal entities like NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration.
Managers believe that a regional-scale, seasonal outlook can be useful in preparing fo
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution