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.