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Underwater Ocean Observing Robots Sniff Out Signs of Toxic Algae

Published on: 03/28/2013

Two autonomous robotic Environmental Sample Processors capable of detecting the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia and its potent neurotoxin domoic acid were deployed off Huntington Beach, California in March as part of a novel ocean observing network. These underwater laboratories transmit data to shore from a toxin sensor designed by a researcher from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. The sensors are detecting the presence of domoic acid in the water, which may be an early sign of a Pseudo-nitzschia bloom developing along the coast.

The study area for the March 2013 ECOHAB experiment.

The study area for the March 2013 ECOHAB experiment. The left shows selected tracks of ships, AUVs, and underwater gliders. The right depicts the same area overlain by a satellite-derived map of chlorophyll, an indicator of marine algae near the sea surface (dark red = highest chlorophyll levels). Credit: MBARI / ECOHAB (Base map from Google maps).

NCCOS researchers and their colleagues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), and several other institutions are using the Controlled, Agile, and Novel Observing Network, also known as CANON. This network is an array of sensors measuring the physics, chemistry, and biology of the ocean to investigate the complex physical and chemical interactions responsible for toxic Pseudo-nitzschia blooms and blooms of other harmful algae along the California coast.

Understanding these interactions will help the team create more accurate forecast models and to establish an early warning system for HABs in this region. Moreover, it will demonstrate the utility of an integrated observing system for harmful algae as part of a Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System under the U.S. IOOS Program.

This work is funded by NOAA’s Ecology & Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms program (also called ECOHAB) through a regional project led by UCSC. Other participants include University of Southern California, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, University of California Los Angeles, and Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, as well as MBARI and NOAA. These partners are contributing a number of new and proven sensor technologies to provide data on Pseudo-nitzschia bloom dynamics and the environmental conditions that promote their development or cause their decline.

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