OSU Researchers Awarded Grant to Help Predict Harmful Algae Blooms

Harmful algal blooms in rivers and streams are neither well-understood nor easily predicted, and researchers at The Ohio State University are hoping to change that.

With a three-year $681,343 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a team of Ohio State scientists plans to develop a widely applicable system for assessing watershed health and determining when a crisis is looming.

Much of the previous work on harmful algal blooms in Ohio has focused on the Lake Erie watershed. With this project, researchers aim to uncover more information about waterways in the Ohio River basin, and in the river itself.

Algae is a normal part of freshwater systems, but when harmful colonies proliferate, they choke out native plants and animals and can produce toxins that can be deadly to people and animals. Harmful algal blooms also raise the cost of water treatment and hurt tourism and recreation industries in Ohio and throughout the nation.

To flourish, harmful algae need sunlight, slow-moving water and nutrients – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorous.

The study focuses on Ohio River catchments of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and in particular on non-agricultural freshwater. The grant is part of the U.S. EPA’s Science to Achieve Results program.

Contributors to shifts in nutrient levels in waterways include climate, landscape, flow and a multitude of other factors that the scientists will take into consideration as they develop their diagnostic tool.

Coalition of Researchers From Multiple Disciplines Fight Algal Blooms in Ohio

At the Ohio State University scientists and other experts are working together to create solutions to potential health problems and commercial concerns associated with harmful algal blooms in our local lakes and around the world.

The HABRI or Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative is a statewide response to the unwanted blooms, which was established in 2014 by the Ohio Department of High Education. Eight other colleges and universities participate in the group.

Some of the OSU participants include: Jiyoung Lee who is looking into reducing microcystins (blue-green algae) in both water treatment plants and lake water; Allison MacKay is developing guidelines for cost-effective water testing and treatment; Stuart Ludsin is developing methods to help state agencies measure the amount of microcystins in local fish populations and guide and inform people about safe amounts of fish to consume during HAB season; and Greg LaBarge is working with 56 farmers in the western Lake Erie basin to collect data about the effects of crop selection, irrigation and soil management on phosphorus/nutrient runoff and its effect on HABs.

Looking For a Cure to the Summertime Blooms

That’s right. Blooms. Algae blooms to be exact. If you are in Ohio and live near any bodies of water you’ve probably heard of them.

And it isn’t just algae blooms, but water quality in general we worry about in the summertime in Ohio. This summer Ohioans are talking about algae blooms, but also the high nitrate levels in drinking water. Thankfully we have a an ally, the Ohio Water Resources Center (Ohio WRC) which is part of the Ohio State University’s College of Engineering. The Ohio WRC is one of only 54 institutes authorized by the federal-level Water Resources Act to promote and fund research and outreach activities concentrated on common water issues on local and regional levels.

One area of concentration for the Ohio WRC has been training the next generation of water experts. They’ve done this through 20 programs that focus on student education in areas such as nutrient runoff, waste water treatment, microcystin treatment, algae and nutrient tracking and water quality.

The Ohio WRC has also created an extensive research database that connects about 300 university level water researchers. This program created a powerful, statewide cooperation between researchers focusing addressing algae blooms and nutrient issues from a field-to-faucet viewpoint.

The Ohio WRC also is involved in a variety of education and outreach initiatives that target K-12 students, working professionals and the public.