Scientists at NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have successfully conducted the first remote detection of a harmful algal species and its toxin below the ocean's surface. The achievement was recently reported in the June issue of Oceanography.
This achievement represents a significant milestone in NOAA's effort to monitor the type and toxicity of harmful algal blooms (HABs). HABs are considered to be increasing not only in their global distribution, but also in the frequency, duration, and severity of their effects. HABs damage coastal ecosystem health and pose threats to humans as well as marine life. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this trend, since many critical processes that govern HABs dynamics, such as water temperature and ocean circulation, are influenced by climate.
A MBARI-designed robotic instrument called the Environmental Sample Processor, or 'ESP,' designed as a fully-functional analytical laboratory in the sea, lets researchers collect the algal cells and extract the genetic information required for organism identification as well as the toxin needed to assess the risk to humans and wildlife. The ESP then conducts specialized, molecular-based measurements of species and toxin abundance, and transmits results to the laboratory via radio signals.
"This represents the first autonomous detection of both a HAB species and its toxin by an underwater sensor," notes Greg Doucette, Ph.D., a research oceanographer at NOAA's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research laboratory in Charleston, S.C. "It allows us to determine not only the organism causing a bloom, but also the toxicity of the event, which ultimately dictates whether it is a threat to the public and the ecosystem."
For the first demonstration of the ESP's ability to detect HABs and their toxins, Doucette and his MBARI colleague, Chris Scholin, Ph.
|Contact: Ben Sherman|