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Implementing Karenia brevis Respiratory Risk Forecast System in the Gulf of Mexico

Primary Contact(s): marc.suddleson@noaa.gov
This project began in September 2020 and is projected to be completed in August 2024

This project will establish a network that incorporates state monitoring partners and citizen scientists to show that the HABscope-based forecast system can provide robust, timely and useful bloom locations and respiratory forecasts.

Why We Care
The nearly annual blooms of Karenia brevis in the Gulf of Mexico adversely impact human and animal health, and cause significant economic losses. K. brevis produces a suite of potent neurotoxins called brevetoxins. In the water, brevetoxins cause massive fish kills, mortalities of manatees, sea turtles, sea birds and dolphins, as well as pose a risk of neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. Brevetoxins also become aerosolized, which leads to substantial human health and economic impact. When healthy people inhale the toxins, they experience various upper respiratory effects: coughing, runny nose, watery eyes. However, when people with chronic lung disease, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), have even a short exposure to these toxins, they may suffer for days with reduced respiratory function. Even worse, an emergency room visit may be required.

Several strategies have been developed by state and federal governments to inform potential beachgoers of possible conditions during red tide events. Both Florida and Texas provide weekly status reports of microscopic cell counts of weekly water samples (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-Florida Wildlife Research Institute). Texas initiates sampling in response to reports of red tide conditions. Florida has long established a systematic monitoring program that draws on the entire range of sources— federal, state, county, academic, NGO, citizen, and other partners — to cumulatively collect water samples at dozens of beaches each week for analysis at FWC-FWRI. In 2004, NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) implemented an operational forecast system in Florida. These state and federal systems have limitations for beachgoers. The state samples are accurate and posted daily via interactive map, usually 1-2 days after the sampling.

In 2018, NOAA NCCOS and Florida partners demonstrated an experimental beach-level risk forecast, developed with NASA funding, to better inform beachgoers when red tide impacts are expected at individual beaches throughout the day. The red tide respiratory forecast was initially developed and tested in Pinellas County, then expanded to Lee County. Today, it includes more than 20 Gulf Coast beaches and is hosted by GCOOS at habforecast.gcoos.org.(The number of beaches participating on a daily basis varies, depending on red tide conditions)

The experimental respiratory forecasts depend on the cell counts and coarse resolution satellite data, and only describe the likelihood of risk for large areas (up to the entire county) over a few days. This coarse resolution results in 70-80% accuracy in reporting respiratory impact somewhere in the county, but only 20% accuracy at individual beaches each day.

What We Are Doing
The goal of this project is to substantially reduce the public impact of K. brevis blooms by providing a capability for daily monitoring and three-hour forecasting of these blooms at the level of individual beaches. This project extends current work done under a previously funded NASA project, which developed an inexpensive ($400) microscope system, called the HABscope, that allows volunteers to collect samples and take videos from individual beaches daily. These videos are uploaded and processed within minutes to estimate cell counts, then combined with high resolution wind speed and direction to predict respiratory risk at individual beaches at different times of day. Results from the NASA project demonstrated a routine and robust capability for monitoring respiratory risk on “Every Beach, Every Day”.

The major objectives of this project are to:

  1. Establish a viable operational and sustainable volunteer network in Florida and Texas,
  2. Refine the HABscope to assess accuracy and improve reliability,
  3. Coordinate with state and local governments to enhance their monitoring with the HABscope capability,
  4. Establish a robust automated forecast system capability hosted through the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) public data portal, and
  5. Assure distribution of publicly useful forecasts of health risk due to brevetoxins.

Once the respiratory forecast is fully operational, GCOOS will permanently operate the system as outlined in their current strategic plan.

Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick of GCOOS at Texas A&M University leads this project. Other principal investigators include, Dr. Richard Stumpf (NOAA NCCOS), Dr. Katherine Hubbard (FL FWRI), Dr. Rance Hardison (NOAA NCCOS), Dr. Wayne Litaker (NOAA NCCOS), Tony Reisinger (Texas Sea Grant). The project is funded through the NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Program.

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