Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020NY254B

Mobile toolkit for rapid in-field screening of freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms

Institute: New York
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-04-01 End Date: 2020-12-31
Total Federal Funds: $20,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $40,066

Principal Investigators:

Abstract: In response to more frequent toxic Harmful Algal Blooms(HABs) statewide, New York State has pledged over $65 million to specifically address HABs. Volunteer monitoring has been critical to the success of identifying the occurrence of HABs across NYS. Though it is relatively easy to train volunteers to identify cyanobacterial blooms visually, it is much more difficult to discern if the blooms are producing toxins. Analytical/bio-chemical analysis for toxins are expensive and must be done in certified centralized labs and results take days to obtain. Years of HAB monitoring by our team on these lakes have uncovered trends that the dominance of Microcystis colonies strongly correlates with whether microcystin levels are elevated. This study proposes to adapt handheld devices for screening current blooms for microcystin toxicity indicators and for prediction of oncoming HABs with two Finger Lakes as the focal locations, with some validation on priority waterbodies from across NYS. Such a warning system could reduce adverse economic impacts associated with HAB events by providing more timely and accurate information about the nature of the blooms. The kit we propose to test involves a workflow can be performed by common citizens on site in less than 1.5 hours total from sampling to result. We will use our proposed field kit to address the following research questions: Q1) Can the field tools in our proposed kit (for microscopy and qPCR) rapidly screen for HABs with high microcystin levles?; Q2) What are the microcystin levels and bloom dynamics during pre-and post-bloom events and how do they vary with sample depth?; Q3) Can subsurface lake samples provide a warning of oncoming surface blooms? Comparisons of our field kit results with ELAP-certified microcystin levels will form the foundation of a HABs warning system that would be valued by a number of stakeholder groups including water purveyors, recreational beach managers and watershed residents. This rapid detection project is timely due to the increasing frequency of HABs across NYS.