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Underwater Robots Detect Toxic Algae off Southern California

Two autonomous underwater robots deployed in San Pedro Bay off southern California have detected the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia and its potent neurotoxin domoic acid. This may signal the initiation of a harmful algal bloom along the coast that could impact a variety of wildlife and fishery resources.

The robots, known as Environmental Sample Processors, are essentially underwater, molecular biology laboratories enclosed in a can. These instruments sit at depths of 30 to 60 feet and are one component in a network of ocean observing sensors that measure and transmit to researchers, in near real time, data about the physics, chemistry, and biology of the ocean.

electron micrograph of Pseudonitzschia australis

Scanning electron micrograph of the diatom, Pseudo-nitzschia australis.

Information collected by this network of sensors is allowing researchers to study the complex environmental factors that may lead to the formation of harmful algal blooms. The ultimate aim of this NCCOS-funded effort is to develop more accurate harmful algal bloom forecast models and an early warning system for harmful algal blooms in this region.

Project partners include NCCOS, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System Program, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the University of California Santa Cruz, and the University of Southern California.

For more information, contact Greg.Doucette@noaa.gov or Quay.Dortch@noaa.gov.

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Shorter web link for sharing: http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/news/?p=11950

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