Home > Explore News > NCCOS Supports Collection of Real-Time Harmful Algal Bloom Data in Alaska

NCCOS Supports Collection of Real-Time Harmful Algal Bloom Data in Alaska

Published on: 06/08/2023
Alexandrium catenella cells

Images captured by the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) aboard the Norseman II off northwestern Alaska on August 21, 2022. Most of the images are of cells of Alexandrium catenella, a HAB species that can produce toxins. Credit: Brosnahan lab at WHOI

NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science (NCCOS) Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Event Response program awarded $29,900 to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Continuing a partnership formed last year between NCCOS-funded HAB researchers and regional leaders that revealed the largest and most toxic bloom of Alexandrium catenella ever recorded in the US, this award will support the collection of real-time HAB data in the Bering Strait region of Alaska this summer. If dangerous algal species are detected, this information will be shared with at-risk coastal communities via HAB risk advisories.

Alexandrium catenella produces paralytic shellfish toxins, a potent class of neurotoxins that can harm humans, marine mammals, and other wildlife. Blooms of the HAB species A. catenella can initiate in Alaskan waters from cysts that have settled onto the sea floor during previous years, or they can be transported from waters south of the Bering Strait.

In summer 2022, a shipboard Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) allowed researchers to capture real-time cell concentrations of A. catenella as the ship passed through blooms. In August 2022, cell concentrations reached over 150,000 cells/L, several orders of magnitude higher than cell concentrations known to cause dangerous shellfish toxicity. This prompted the researchers to issue risk advisories to Bering Strait communities and health authorities to alert individuals and families to food safety risks from consuming subsistence shellfish and other marine wildlife resources that may be contaminated with HAB toxins.

This funding will support the real-time IFCB detection of HAB species on four research cruises this summer in the Bering Strait region of Alaska. The IFCB will be aboard the R/V Sikuliaq for much of June through early October. WHOI scientists will remotely analyze data from the IFCB to identify HAB species and determine cell concentrations. Weekly updates will be distributed to appropriate stakeholders in the region, and if a dangerous HAB is detected, risk advisories will be issued to Bering Strait communities in coordination with Alaska Sea Grant, the Norton Sound Health Corporation, and others.

The NCCOS HAB Event Response Program provides immediate support to help state, tribal, and local officials manage events and advance the understanding of HABs as they occur.

For more information about the NCCOS HAB Event Response Program, contact sarah.pease@noaa.gov.

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