Our Work Related to Algal Blooms

Regular measurement of potentially harmful algae and the toxins they produce is critical to the health of humans and marine ecosystems alike. CeNCOOS helps support routine algae and toxin sampling at coastal locations throughout the region.

Algae samples are currently being collected weekly in Santa Cruz and Monterey with the aid of CeNCOOS funds. Samples are also being collected at a Tiburon station in San Francisco Bay. Additionally, UC Santa Cruz frequently analyzes HAB toxins for government agencies, conservation groups, scientists, and others with the help of CeNCOOS support. The Santa Cruz wharf site also serves as one of the core California Department of Public Health monitoring sites, where weekly phytoplankton and mussel toxicity samples are collected.

CeNCOOS is also a partner in an innovative regional collaboration on HABs monitoring, the California HAB Monitoring and Alert Program (CalHABMAP). HABMAP hosts a website where weekly algae and toxin data from eight piers in California can be accessed by anyone. Two of those locations are operated with support from CeNCOOS.

Measuring algae and toxins is just one piece of the puzzle. Scientists are constantly improving their understanding of the complex marine environment and what ocean conditions can trigger HAB events. Along the California coast, CeNCOOS instruments make—in real time—other critical ocean measurements related to HABs development. These include temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and acidity. At some locations, CeNCOOS also monitors other important water quality information such as chlorophyll and nutrient levels, which at high numbers might indicate or lead to a bloom.

san luis obispo shore monitoring sensor photo

Having a full suite of coastal water quality observations provides a trifecta of benefits. They allow for maximum lead time detection of HAB events and further our scientific understanding of HABs development. Together, these two benefits generate a third—they allow CeNCOOS scientists to develop and fine-tune state of the art numerical models to forecast HAB events.

Harmful algal bloom forecast image
One such HABs model, in development by CeNCOOS partners at UC Santa Cruz, can forecast the chance of a HAB event occurring by combining knowledge of historical HAB events, satellite observations of ocean color from algae, and advanced ocean circulation models. This model has been tested in Santa Barbara Channel and Monterey Bay, and CeNCOOS scientists are working on expanding it to all coastal areas in California. CeNCOOS is also supporting modeling efforts in Humboldt Bay, where models are being developed to forecast ocean color—an indicator of a potential bloom.

Communicating and coordinating advancements in HABs monitoring and modeling is as important as the science itself. HAB events often crop up quickly, and efficiently communicating knowledge of the event’s location and extent is paramount for time-sensitive public health and marine resource management decisions. 
CeNCOOS is an integral part of CalHABMAP, a cutting edge program that networks HAB scientists, managers, and the general public in California. The goal of HABMAP is to implement a proactive HAB alert network that provides current information on coastal algal blooms and facilitates information exchange. There are 12 active sampling locations in California and Mexico (nine in California). Crucial decisions on how to respond to and mitigate HAB events, how to predict them, and potentially how to prevent them, require knowledge of their behavior and impacts. Similar to HABMAP, The California Cyanobacteria Harmful Algal Blooms Network (CCHABs) was recently established in an effort to coordinate and manage harmful cyanobacteria blooms and effects in freshwater and marine ecosystems throughout California.

calhapmap instagram snapshot

CeNCOOS partners have also played an important role in management and education activities regarding HABs. They helped the California Department of Public Health refine their volunteer monitoring program and evaluated their on-site toxin test kits. CeNCOOS also provides real-time support for emerging HAB issues including access to oceanographic and satellite data and rapid toxin testing, including toxins that are not routinely monitored in California.
CeNCOOS also helped to develop an exhibit at the new San Francisco Exploratorium location. "The Color of Water" installation consists of 32 distinct color swatches suspended above the Bay so that visitors can actively match the day’s water color and investigate the causes behind these daily shifts.