Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016OH484B

Effectiveness of Data Buoys as Early Warning Systems for cHABs (cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms) in Lake Erie

Institute: Ohio
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $33,139 Total Non-Federal Funds: $36,632

Principal Investigators: Justin Chaffin, Douglas Kane

Abstract: Toxic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs) are a global problem and threaten public drinking water. In response to the Toledo drinking water crisis of August 2014, several data buoys were deployed throughout Lake Erie’s western basin in summer 2015 with sensors used to detect cHABs abundance. These sensors provide real time, high temporal resolution (15 minutes) of cHAB biomass (as well as several other water quality and atmospheric parameters) located near the lake surface. This information is used by operators of water treatment plants who treat Lake Erie water for drinking water for local municipalities. These water plants draw in water from near the bottom of the lake, whereas, the sensors are located at the surface. Thus, there is a potential disconnect between buoy data and the water quality coming into the plant. Buoyancy regulation of cyanobacteria can further exacerbate that disconnect and result in large differences between data and intake water. To determine the effectiveness of data buoys as early warning systems for cHABs in Lake Erie, we propose to collect water samples from several depths next to two data buoys in 2016. One buoy is located near Gibraltar Island and the other is near the outflow of Sandusky Bay. Microcystis is the dominate cyanobacterium in waters near the Gibraltar Island buoy, whereas Planktothrix near the Sandusky Bay buoy. We will collect water samples at one-meter intervals from surface to lake bottom for analysis of phytoplankton biomass, chlorophyll a concentration, and microcystin. We will sample near the Gibraltar Island buoy weekly mid-May through mid-October. In addition, we will conduct two high frequency sample events during the bloom in which 10 samples will be collected over a 5 day span, which will be centered around a calm period and a high wind period. For the Sandusky buoy, we will sample next to the buoy 8 times throughout summer. We will compare our depth integrated data to that of the buoys’ data to determine 1) how accurately the buoys are measuring cHAB abundance at the surface, 2) are the buoys over or under estimating cHABs abundance at depths of water intakes, and 3) how does wind speed affect the relative abundance of cHAB at the surface to that near the bottom. Results from this project will be shared with water plant operators at outreach events hosted by Stone Laboratory and Ohio Sea Grant. We will construct a flow chart for the plant operators to aid them in interpreting buoy sensor data and how to use wind data to help them estimate the amount of cyanobacteria near the bottom of the lake, where their intake pipes draw in water.